At 3.00pm last Saturday, my phone bleeped and I looked down to see a message from a chum.
Nothing hugely surprising in that, I hear you cry, but the time was significant as that is a time sacrosanct for followers of the beautiful game, certainly in this part of the world where the great dictator, television, hasn’t ordered us to play at 8.15pm on a Thursday.
The message was as follows: “In M&S, they are queued the whole way around the shop and up the car park, it’s like Christmas Eve, you can’t move.”
Well, if that’s the case in a store (other crowded shops are now available) then why the hell are a few hundred of us still not allowed to watch football — outdoors — whilst adhering to social distancing?
Perhaps if this particular horse had been put before the cart a few weeks ago we would have avoided the shameful goings-on of the past few days where football, quite frankly, has shot itself in the foot repeatedly.
There are a huge number of culprits with their grubby digits on the smoking gun — NIFL, the IFA and, most disturbingly of all, clubs who have gladly hurled the baby out with the bathwater for their own purely selfish reasons.
As it stands, the league is over — well, until the legal actions begin — and what great news for those in the ‘asterix’ business. No, not the little chap from Gaul, this is the symbol that will leap large from future record books where the season 2019-20, which was shaping up to be one of the best ever, has ended in glorious failure and will be marked with an *.
It looks like Linfield will be champions* with Coleraine second* and then Crusaders* in third if the mathematical equation that is going to be used comes up with the expected solution.
Of course, the big * to all that is the Irish Cup, which is going ahead, albeit with no fans, and could yet hijack that pesky asterisk from the Crues to be given to any of the four semi-finalists who go on to lift the trophy in an empty Windsor Park and get to Europe.
Unless it is Coleraine and the record books will become some hieroglyphic nightmare.
If the return to action in the Premier League has shown anything it is that football needs fans as much, if not more, than the supporters need the sport, with the atmosphere non-existent and Sky desperately trying to convince us that things are great by piping in crowd noises. It has been awful.
Once the final curtain came down on the bickering that brought the curtain down on the league season, the IFA, with distasteful haste — like the vicar running off with a grieving widow — roared in to announce that the Irish Cup would be going ahead.
It’s just a shame they weren’t so quick to dig into their pockets to provide a solution to what the clubs couldn’t agree on — money — unlike down south where the FAI, who, quite bluntly, haven’t got a pot to do you know what in, coughed up £2m from the coffers to support their teams.
Oh, and to rub more salt in the wounds, the IFA announced profits of almost £400,000 this week, already adding to a relatively healthy balance and boosted considerably by the Uefa dosh that they seem desperate to hang onto and not tell us what they intend to do with.
Perhaps they could now, seeing that they love quick, decisive action, get the finger out, contact the Executive to see if we can get fans back, and put measures in place, like all those big shops who, by the best will in the world, are attracting more people in queues than bums in the Windsor Park seats.
The National Stadium, as the IFA insist on calling it, holds 18,000 people. Are you telling me there is no way that a crowd of, say, a sixth of that couldn’t be dealt with comfortably and in accordance with social distancing?
Let season ticket holders have the first option on tickets, let people queue to get in like they are doing in shops across the country and have every person masked and tested with the temperature gun before they set foot in the place. Too hot? Off you trot.
If we had just stepped back and looked to do something like this and the IFA and NIFL had come up with an effective system to test players and officials, then we could have come to a solution that doesn’t involve mathematical symbols and asterisks aplenty.
And spare a thought for Institute, who, as it stands, seem to be hurled into the Championship, even though they were only three points behind Warrenpoint Town at the foot of the Premiership.
They say they are “saddened and dismayed” that sporting integrity has gone out the window, joining common sense, forward-thinking and loyalty, to be replaced by self-serving, bloody-minded and downright shameful in the lexicon of the Irish League.
And, one final thought, won’t the asterisk look well on that Linfield away kit beside the title-winning stars?