Credit: Vienna Reyes via Unsplash

Football stopped to mourn

By Daniel Street

Sports Reporter Daniel Street gives his take on the recent stoppage of football in the UK, as a sign of respect for the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

There will be some that won’t miss the pomp, the ceremony, the sheer stuffiness and manicured pageantry of the second Elizabethan age. Yet there will be those of us that deeply mourn the loss, the hole where she was, the grey, fuzzy gap where something was constant in this age of Omni-crises. 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Thursday 8 September surrounded by some of her children at Balmoral Castle – including the now King Charles III. That in itself is contentious in these parts – are we happy that she passed away in one of her favourite places, or are we bitter at the size of that place, the grandeur, the ostentatiousness of the old imperial order?

Someone once said: “The only two things certain in life are death and taxes,” and there will be some of us who argue that Elizabeth II got a pretty fair deal. But what occurred next, after the death of British history’s longest reigning monarch, and the second longest reigning monarch in global history (only Louis XIV managed longer) has left some of us lowly citizens a tad baffled.

Indeed, football stopped to mourn, as the pinnacle of major sport in this country, the vanguard of the nation’s public consciousness, it had a right to; but did it read the room? Did it consider the way ordinary folk tend to feel about sport and monumental national occasions? Did it think about togetherness, respect, and dignity?

The short answer: unequivocally no. 

Football these days is so often cloth-eared to the voice of the people, the authorities more eager to make money or save face than being caught out by something that doesn’t fit the ultra-clean, sanitised product that the modern game has become. An outpouring at football grounds all over the four nations would have been a moment of collective catharsis for those of us who cared, maybe even for those of us who didn’t.

We all grieve in our own ways – but who had the idea of shutting us in our homes for a miserable weekend surrounded by rolling 24-hour news of dignitaries and rituals? This was not the way the people wanted to remember Elizabeth II, nor the way we wanted to see her go. We wanted to be passionate in voice and respectful in silence. The emotion of the crowd is the major part of live football, the thrill of being there, the sensation of being ingrained with your tribe.

Her Majesty was a massive lover of sport, too. From the horses to the Ashes to countless winner’s ceremonies performed throughout her 70-year reign. The more you think about it, the more nonsensical this decision gets.

The men’s third Test between England and South Africa, day three of five went ahead with a solemn and dignified tribute. Do the powers that be honestly feel that football is incapable of something similar? From grounds across the four nations, there could have been the potential for some real vociferous emotion, some collective bonding in this time of tumult and fracture. And yet, what we were left with was a squandered opportunity, a gilt-edged chance gone begging. We wanted to pay our respects; we were left wondering where our miserable lives were going. The age of Trussonomics, Cold War 2.0, the return of The Donald, paying £10 a day for your heating: none of this is pleasant Saturday afternoon stuff. This isn’t the type of thing that gets you out of your seat with kiddish excitement, it’s more reminiscent of cold porridge. 

There is of course the argument that at grounds where Her Majesty is less welcome – to name Celtic Park as one – the anti-imperial sentiment and anger would have overspilled and created a wider controversy. Is there no recognition here too that we live in a free country? Monarchist or not – just enjoy the game.

What history will remember then is that this is the weekend that football stopped, and it was the weekend that they got it wrong, again. The resultant packed schedule does not make happy reading for the elite clubs, either. It is already a herculean task to get through the season without injury, playing a game on average every four or five days. My own Manchester United have a game every three-and-a-half days in October. Injuries will follow, be sure of that.

Is this what Queen Elizabeth would have wanted? Silent reflection, people separated, closed off, morose? I would venture not. I would venture you’d have preferred a celebration of your life, a collective coming together, a poignant fond farewell. But what do I know?    


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