We must take all the time we need

May, 21/2020 - 08:06
Bill Shankly was a footballing God. A manager who never minced his words and was rarely short of something to say.


WORDS OF WISDOM: Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly who was never lost for words. Photo Liverpool FC

By Paul Kennedy

Bill Shankly was a footballing God. A manager who never minced his words and was rarely short of something to say.

He had an opinion on just about everything and would share his thoughts at the drop of a hat.

Even today, almost 40 years since his death, you will still hear Liverpool supporters doing pretty poor impressions of him in the pubs and bars around Anfield, quoting verbatim his words of wisdom.

Some of his quotes have stood the tests of time, others not so much. There are two particularly famous utterings from the Scot that are just as relevant today as the time he spoke them, more so in fact.

Speaking on a television chat show way back when, Shankly said: “Somebody said football is a matter of life and death to me and I said listen, it’s more important than that.”

A great quote, sure. But fast forward to the present day and it really doesn’t bode well.

With hundreds of thousands of people dying around the world, is now the right time to risk it all and start playing again?

Plans are in place to make it happen as safely as humanly possible, and in Germany last weekend fixtures were played, albeit in empty stadiums.

Which brings us neatly to another Bill Shankly quote.

“Liverpool is not a club, it’s an institution and my aim was to bring the people closer to the team.”

And here we are today with fans instructed they absolutely have to keep their distance and nothing could be worse than bringing supporters closer to the team.

The gates will be closed and the best supporters can hope for is the chance to watch the game on an internet stream or free-to-air television.

So it begs the question, once more, what on earth should be done to restart football?

The Bundesliga is clearly the best example that England, and indeed the rest of the world, must follow.

Last weekend, matches were played sans supporters and it did give an eerie atmosphere to the game. Goals went in and were celebrated with what sounded like a polite round of applause from the small amount of press and club officials in the grounds.

Some clubs took the unusual step of printing out images of the faces of fans to stick on cardboard cutouts to fill the empty seats.

One club in South Korea took things to, well let’s just say, a much lower level that I cannot repeat here. (Google it if you don’t know already).

And in England they are talking about using the speaker system at grounds to pipe crowd sounds through to try and make the atmosphere that little bit better.

But none of this actually matters. The only thing that is important is the safety of not only the players but all the other personnel needed to play a game.

In England this week training resumed, although much different than usual with footballers practicing in small groups and avoiding close contact.

Tests were carried out on not just all Premier League players, but also coaches and other peripheral personnel associated with the training facilities.

Results were ok, with just half a dozen of the 700 plus tested returning positive results for COVID-19 which is not enough to threaten or postpone Project Restart.

But that was Tuesday. What about today? Or the weekend, or the week after? Will there be more cases? Or less?

I want football to start as quickly as possible. I’m missing it and desperately need my fix. But there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before we can say it is completely safe to return.

After all, it’s only a game and not a matter of life and death. VNS