Coronavirus: Coping without sport, a call to arms
PUBLISHED: 12:00 21 March 2020
Unprecedented times. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown, shutdown.
The coronavirus pandemic has altered the world as we know it. People are fighting for their lives.
The decisions made to postpone, suspend, cancel all manner of sporting competitions were on the one hand difficult, but on the other hand, the only option in such a health crisis.
And it has left sports journalists in a strange place.
Saturday (or Sunday) is usually the day when most will head to grounds to watch live sporting action.
In the case of the reporters working for the titles I oversee in London, Herts and the South West, that is mostly football or rugby during the winter and cricket in the summer – arguably the three biggest participation sports in the country (although I expect hockey is right up there as well).
These matches will range from football’s Premier League, all the way down to the ninth tier of football, or from rugby’s Gallagher Premiership to community rugby in the regional leagues.
Reporters look forward to catching up with peers in the press box, enjoying a decent pre-match meal in the glittering top-flight stadia or a ‘pie and a pint’ in a clubhouse with local club officials and players.
The last sporting events I physically attended just two weekends ago included a women’s East League hockey match between Havering and Folkestone at Campion School on Saturday March 7, followed by interviews with Essex cricketers Simon Harmer, Adam Wheater and Aaron Beard, during a winter coaching session with youngsters at Coopers Coborn School in Upminster.
The next day I was at the Sapphire Ice & Leisure Centre in Romford, watching the Everyone Active Raiders skate to a 7-2 win over Peterborough.
Then it was a day in our Stevenage office, catching up with staff there, Tuesday March 10 in our Weston-super-Mare office and Wednesday is a work from home day (which for an Essex-born lad, educated at Robert Clack School in Dagenham, is now a village in Somerset).
I was looking forward to watching the Manchester City v Arsenal match on TV that night, but it was then postponed. And news broke that Gunners boss Mikel Arteta had tested positive for coronavirus.
Thursday was also spent at home, hitting the final print deadlines of the week (Cambs Times, Wisbech Standard, Romford Recorder), and then preparing more digital coverage ahead of games on March 13-14.
But the Premier League announced they were suspending fixtures (we cover Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham), as did the Championship (QPR) and Football League (Leyton Orient, Stevenage).
Other non-league competitions (Isthmian, Southern, Western Leagues and further down the pyramid) followed suit, but the National League announced their show would go on, which meant action for Dagenham & Redbridge, Wealdstone, Billericay and St Albans.
Daggers ended up withdrawing from their trip to Woking a few hours before kick-off after some of their players and staff showed symptoms, but the table-topping Stones drew at Chippenham Town in National League South, as Billericay lost at Welling and Saints beat Braintree.
Managers were far from happy, though, calling the decision to play on as ‘wrong’ and ‘stupid’ and, as a new week began, it was announced the National League too would suspend matches.
Raiders played home and away against Bracknell and Telford, meanwhile, but the final weekend of their regular season (this March 21-22 weekend) was then cancelled by the EIHA and after a host of our local hockey and rugby clubs also fulfilled fixtures, they too heard the RFU and England Hockey would be suspending all activity, then declare their seasons over in the days that followed.
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All of which meant there was just about enough sports news and photos to fill our regular amount of pages in our three geographical areas this past week, but we now face the first Saturday in my 23-plus years in the industry without any live action.
I’ve had to deal with winter white-outs leaving outdoor sport under several inches of snow and summer washouts wiping out cricket leagues, but indoor sport would (nearly) always save the day and invariably there would be fixtures the following weekend to look forward to once more.
But this is unchartered territory. No professional football until April 30, no professional cricket until May 28 and uncertainty as to when lower league action will return or begin, if it does or can.
There are plans in place to continue bringing our readers sporting content to enjoy, various types of features, quizzes, important and memorable matches from the past, great images of yesteryear from our photo archives.
And the last few days have seen many emails and calls to contacts to try and find willing interviewees, ready to tell their own sporting life stories.
Ahead of the London 2012 Olympics, I can remember speaking to several local sportsmen and women who had some fascinating tales about competing at the Games and I am sure there are plenty more out there who could now share memories of their sporting achievements in a range of events.
They don’t have to be related to the Olympics (although that would be great), but we’re here, ready to listen to long-serving club stalwarts and their recollections and reflections on lifetimes in sport, or about up-and-coming ones to watch in the future.
A campaign was launched by Britain’s local press this week to support communities up and down the country with the message ‘When you’re on your own, we are there with you’.
So as we adjust to these testing times, please do not hesitate to get in touch to talk about those great sporting moments of yours.
East London: Barking & Dagenham Post, Newham Recorder, Docklands & East London Advertiser, Ilford & Woodford Recorder, Romford & Brentwood Recorder.
North London: Brent & Kilburn Times, Hackney Gazette, Islington Gazette, Ham & High Express.
Kent: Gravesend Reporter, Bromley Times, Bexley Times.
Herts: Welwyn, Hatfield & Potters Bar Times, Herts Advertiser, The Comet, Royston Crow, Saffron Walden Reporter, Dunmow Broadcast, Ely & Soham Standard, Cambs Times, Wisbech Standard.
South West: North Somerset Times, Weston Mercury, Exmouth Journal, Midweek Herald, Sidmouth Herald, North Devon Gazette.