FANS were spoiled yesterday with FOUR games of Premier League football as it returned on a Saturday for the first time in three months.
A record ten million viewers are thought to have seen the Bournemouth-Crystal Palace clash on BBC1 – the first top-flight league game on terrestrial TV since 1992. Our writer witnessed yesterday’s action – from the comfort of home, naturally . . .
USUALLY with kick-off approaching I’d be weighing up ordering one last pint against making the walk to the London Stadium to watch my beloved West Ham.
But for the next few weeks I am going to have to make do with an L-shaped settee and a cuppa while watching it on the box.
For the first time ever yesterday we were blessed with four games on the TV, and for the first time in 28 years a top-flight match on the Beeb.
By midday yesterday I was ready — a TV guide, remote control and a case of lagers chilling in the fridge.
It felt a bit like the World Cup.
But this is the new normal, with only 300 people allowed in each stadium, and that includes the players.
For a while at least, football will be like copying a trip to Thorpe Park by putting up a trampoline in your back garden.
A 12.30pm kick-off meant it was too early for a beer, so I opted for a brew.
“Look on the bright side,” I said to my wife. “These early kick-offs will mean there’s no time to visit B&Q.”
She replied, saying something about the local A&E being grateful.
As the action started, the burning question was . . . sound on or off?
These fake crowd noises are definitely going to divide opinion. Watching football now feels like watching Fifa on the PlayStation.
In the end I hit the mute button. Mind you, choosing to do without the crowd noise did end up costing me at the end of what ended as a thrilling draw at Vicarage Road.
“They’re still making more noise than your fans,” I texted a Gooner pal.
Like the players had been doing themselves, I felt the need to put liquid on board.
In the old days, I could go to the kitchen and stick my head in the fridge, knowing that if the crowd roared I could quickly get back to see what had happened.
This time, with only the commentary to alert me, I returned with a drink in hand, but a goal down. Turned out I’d missed the equaliser.
I turn the sound back on to the hollow audio of inside the ground, where every shout of “Dunky!” and “Man on!” can be heard.
I rush to the loo for a comfort break. No queue, no one moaning about our right back, no sticky floor.
I’m interrupted halfway through by a hellish scream. “What’s that?” I call out to my wife as I rush back into the living room, expecting to see something from a murder scene.
Thankfully it was just Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette rolling around the ground after a meaty challenge.
A moment of comedy was soon followed by another. With no crowd, you could hear Brighton attackers telling Arsenal players to stay “two metres away” as they tried to mark them at a corner.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang laughed, and so did I.
It was another thrilling ending with a last-minute win for Brighton.
It felt odd not seeing fans going mad in the stands. At full time there were handbags as the Arsenal and Brighton lads squared up.
“Not much social distancing there,” said commentator Ian Darke. This was more like the Comedy Store.
After a bite to eat it was time for the main event, the return of West Ham. I’d waited a mere 151,200 minutes for this moment.
Our owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, have a socially distanced joke in the stands about whether to wear their crest-emblazoned face masks — more hilarity.
As the lads came out on to the pitch I thought about the people I’d normally sit with on match day.
I bet they felt as nervous as I did. Whenever West Ham are on the box I don’t sit. Can’t. Too nervous. Too excited. Yesterday was no different.
I whack the volume up loud and the sound of Blowing Bubbles booms through the living room.
As the referee blows the whistle I’m up on my feet. Finally it is back. Come on, you Hammers!
Then one of our lads misplaces a pass and it goes out for a Wolves throw-in. I sink back into the sofa.
Three months have passed but some things never change. It’s going to be a long summer . . .
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