Football returns to the capital - complete with VAR, rain and Roy Keane rants

June 19, 2020

 

So here we all are again. Except not quite. 

For most of us, what is left of the football season will be all about hooking up to dodgy illegal streams or TV packages to catch what behind-closed-doors action we can find. 

For those who accept no substitute for the real thing, some compromises are in order, lest all this much longed-for action passes us by. 

The first game back in the capital for more than 100 days should have been witnessed by a raucous 60,000 crowd to watch Tottenham and Man United break the unwanted ceasefire, but fate has decided otherwise for reasons that we all know. 

It is so long ago that the world shut down in a bid to stave off the first effects of Covid-19 that a new preoccupation has emerged in the shape of the Black Lives Matter campaign and all the players took a knee before kick-off and sported BLM on their backs rather than their own names.  

Not so long ago, it was hard to imagine another international issue becoming so significant that praise of the NHS and silence in memory of those who have lost their lives in the pandemic would play second fiddle on the day football returned to London. 

The fake crowd noises piped into our TV sets tried to purvey a semblance of normality, as did the players, in offering up a whole-hearted clash which was far better than anyone had a right to realistically expect. It can’t have been easy preparing for a full-blooded contest while at the same time trying to get to grips with the protocols of human contact decreed by governments and governing bodies. 

But a decent game did break out, in grizzly out of season rain which at least helped with the illusion that this was not actually a match being played during what is normally Euro or World cup tournament season. 

Spurs had gone six games without a win before we were all rudely interrupted back in March and must have thought they could end that awful run after an impressive first half in which Steven Bergwijn gave them a 27th minute lead. 

However, United raised their game after the break, with Paul Pogba coming off the bench to earn the penalty which new sensation Bruno Fernandes put away calmly as the visitors made it 12 without loss. 

Ref John Moss tried to award a second penalty for United after another incident involving Eric Dier – who gave away the first kick. Happily for a furious Jose Mourinho, VAR intervened and it ended 1-1. 

In the bigger scheme of things, Spurs still trail United by four points and lag behind several clubs in the battle for a Champions League slot. But long ago, this felt like a season that had gone terminally off the boil for last season’s Champions League finalists, so they will perhaps be grateful for the small mercy of not slipping to a fourth home defeat in a row. 

It was good to see football again – even against the backdrop of an empty stadium. That will always be better than nothing. The true visceral vibrancy of a match day will have to wait a while longer in these uncertain times, but having VAR interventions and Roy Keane rants are somehow reassuring – and hint at better days to come. 

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