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Behind closed doors

Plenty of ‘live’ football on television at the moment with all of it being played in empty stadiums across Europe.

Most of the European leagues are completing the 2019-20 schedule, others are making a start on ‘next season’.

But are you enjoying the ‘wall-to-wall’ coverage from what have become ‘ghost stadiums’ or is it a little false for your liking and more akin to a glorified training session?

Compared to all the retro football that was cabled into our living rooms for the first two months of lockdown, I suppose the current stuff is an improvement and is a means to an end.

But if this scenario extends into next season, the game’s popularity will suffer not to mention our mental wellbeing.

At the moment, I enjoy the games better without the ‘canned’ soundtrack, preferring to hear Mourinho swear in his native tongue rather than listening to ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Bubbles’ or ‘C’mon Burnley’ as the ‘out of sync’ background noise is ramped-up.

Let’s be honest, some grounds are notorious for the lack of atmosphere so the PA system generated noise is better than you would get from the thousands of regulars on the terraces in normal circumstances.

All joking aside, it is far from ideal and I genuinely feel for all those fanatics who cannot go and watch their team. 

The average crowd for a non-league game is probably around the 300 mark – a similar number as permitted into these ‘spectator-free’ fixtures – so social distancing wouldn’t be a problem during the match.

But the logistics of staging a game under current restrictions makes non-league football almost impossible.  Think of the testing for players and staff, getting players to and from matches, the changing facilities, the social clubs and food outlets, the toilets and technical areas etc., etc.

The authorities were quick to end football in March, and rightly so, but there won’t be the same haste to get going again in September, October or whenever.   

The bizarre situation we find ourselves in prompted a recollection of Reds playing ‘behind closed doors’ matches in the past, albeit for reasons far less important than Covid-19.

Perhaps the most memorable occasion was a Wednesday lunchtime friendly against Newcastle United back in January, 1977.

The game was arranged at very short notice, the day before in fact, at the request of Newcastle United manager, Gordon Lee.  His side had been starved of action as a result of a couple of postponements and were desperate for a game.

They brought their first XI across and took on Reds’ Fourth Division team before a handful of club officials.  Future Workington boss, Tommy Cassidy, was included in the black and whites line-up which read: Mahoney, Nattrass, Kennedy, Cassidy, McCaffrey, Nulty, Barrowclough, Cannell, Burns, Gowling and Craig.

The First Division (Premier) outfit emerged comfortable 4-1winners with Micky Burns, Irving Nattrass, Alan Gowling and Tommy Craig sharing their goals.  Barry Donaghy had the satisfaction of scoring our consolation.

It was a privilege to host a top flight side at Borough Park with the opposition obviously confident that we would provide a decent workout on a good playing surface.

The match was one of many that have been played on the ground ‘behind closed doors’ but the status of Newcastle at the time made the occasion rather special from a club perspective.    

During that season, 1976-77, we played three friendly fixtures at Borough Park behind closed doors.  Darlington (1-3) visited us in July, then the Newcastle (1-4) match in January with Carlisle United (0-4) travelling for a game in February.

Carlisle United have played over a dozen matches against us without spectators in attendance, both at Brunton Park and Borough Park, and several other local clubs have visited us for fixtures arranged at short notice.

But playing a competitive fixture in such circumstances now would be totally unviable so let’s hope it never comes to that!   

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