Foodbanks, respect and societal cost: Why football should not have been cancelled this weekend

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When the Premier League met at 11am on Friday morning, one consideration was paramount, and was why the decision took just 20 minutes.

That was that the late Queen Elizabeth II was a patron of the Football Association with Prince William II, as well as the monarch for over 70 years, so the only possible conclusion was to postpone. It was purely, to quote a few sources, about “respect”.

That was despite other sports playing on, and the fact that there were a lot of serious elements to respectfully consider.

With the Premier League’s announcement coming just over 24 hours until the first weekend game, all of the clubs involved had to plan as if they were taking place. This meant an entire economy of freelance workers, casuals and employees on zero-hour contracts being told they would be working, that number into the thousands across the game.

Clubs themselves might have had to take a hit on cancellation at 25% of fees, which may not be an issue for the Premier League, but is a big problem outside it. There’s then the amount of food that goes to waste, with transportation and storage issues ensuring not all of it can go to foodbanks.

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Tens of thousands of fans had, meanwhile, made travel plans, with the Premier League’s very international popularity ensuring a good number of those would have come from abroad. Many won’t get refunds on travel or hotels. Some provisions are at least possible for those who had booked by train to ensure a voucher refund – if they claim early enough.

Chelsea Women were supposed to play at Stamford Bridge, in what was supposed to be a momentum-building weekend for the women’s game and the Women’s Super League.

That is all a significant societal cost, much of it to the Queen’s subjects.

There are a number of polemical arguments that could be made on other pages about how many British people don’t feel strongly about this; that it’s forcing them into mourning; that it’s actually changing the mood. There was a darkly absurd moment during Manchester United’s Europa League match when commentators repeatedly referred to fans having things other than football on their mind, only for some abrasive chants about the owners, the Glazers, to start up.

“These aren’t Victorian times,” one involved source said. “You can’t treat sport like that anymore”.

Except, in 1952, when King George VI died, and in 1936, when King George V died, football played on.

That’s another element to it. The sport actually does solemn remembrance very well. While some would have of course insisted that the games are called off, other affected fans would have wanted to use their games to show respect. Does anyone doubt this weekend’s games would have been packed?

Above anything, though, there is a pointed symbolism to the people’s game costing people thousands and negatively affecting their lives – and that amid a cost of living crisis of so much financial and emotional austerity – out of deference to what remains an elite institution. And, perhaps, a misplaced deference.

It’s all the more ironic given that sports more associated with the establishment such as cricket, rugby and even horse racing – which was the Queen’s great sporting passion – are carrying on at times when the football will be off.

Manchester United take part in a minute’s silence (Martin Rickett/PA)

There is then the fact many people are pointing out how one of the things the Queen was most admired for was stoically carrying on.

Sport, to rightly afford the bodies some allowance, was put in a difficult position here. “There was no rulebook,” one source said. In fact, there were no rules at all, but by design. The Department of Culture, Sport and Media issued new guidance on national mourning and specifically stated “there is no obligation to cancel or postpone events and sporting fixtures… this is at the discretion of individual organisations”. This was also known through planning meetings for years.

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When you weigh all the various elements up, including the debate over what actually constitutes “respect”, it is difficult not to conclude football has made the wrong decision. It’s difficult not to ask whether it is purely about public relations, and potential criticism for not postponing.

It has just meant that so many of the Queen’s subjects feel the cost.

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