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Friday 13 March 2020

Following yesterday’s reports that all football matches could be played behind closed doors we asked two of our football and sport experts for their views.

“Football reflects the society in which it is played”, says Dr David Webber, whose current research examines the political, economic and cultural changes that English football has undergone over the past 30 years.

“The immediate reaction appears to be that football, and sport more generally, has to take a back-seat during a health crisis like this. ‘It’s only football’ is a common reaction. Football isn’t - as Bill Shankly once claimed - more important than life or death, and if we are serious about tackling the virus, measures do need to be put in place to halt its spread. 

“Football, however, reflects the society in which it is played. And therefore, how football itself reacts to COVID-19 tells us a great deal about broader social attitudes towards the virus itself. How this coronavirus is managed as a public health crisis reveals who or what we value as a society. Who has power, and how this power is exercised within society itself? It tells us a great deal about those broader attitudes that we have towards health and economic inequalities, and even the sustainability of the planet itself.

“Football is not separate from these concerns, but is deeply embedded within them. It needs to be part of the conversation, in not simply confronting this virus but in the fault-lines running through our society. 

“To dismiss football as ‘irrelevant’ at a time of crisis and potentially profound social and economic change, is as disingenuous as to suggest that football and politics shouldn’t mix. And that, as we know, is beyond the realms of possibility.” 

More information on Dr David Webber can be found on his academic profile here.

“But what about ticket holding fans outside of the Premier League?” says Dr Mark Turner, whose main teaching interests are in the areas of applied sport sociology.

“In terms of some micro-level observations, the obvious question will be what is the real impact on ticket holding fans outside of the Premier League,  where I suspect the live streaming of games won’t apply?

“It will also be interesting to see to what extent ‘home’ clubs challenging at both ends of the table – promotion, relegation, Champions League qualification - might argue that playing in empty stadiums (completely understandable from a health perspective) has an impact on their chances of success. Of course, that is trivial within the context of wider health concerns - but from an economists view, the lack of home atmosphere in critical games could be decisive in a team being relegated or not. Unless they suspend the season to avoid this.”

More information on Dr Mark Turner’s can be found on his academic profile here.