TT MATCH VERDICT
Rachel Malloch – @RachelVillavox
I’ve never been one to see the merits of armchair football viewing, or sitting in a pub vying for a good perch to watch the big screen for that matter, but then I can’t say life in a global pandemic is anything to write a postcard home about either. With the announcement by the government of ‘elite’ league football and the conference 2020/21 season to proceed behind closed turnstiles, having allowed the Premier League to conclude, and for some, like me, in nail biting style, the introduction of streaming games, direct to your armchair, suddenly became a welcome recreation.
A day in the Covid life for me, my partner and for so many others has been a recycling of work, rest and work. No evenings at the theatre, a restaurant diversion, a travel excursion, a relaxed visit up country, cross country to see family and friends. Going to work has remained the stalwart of a pretty colourless year. No football has been the stale, tasteless icing on the cake. The adage ‘we work to live’ suddenly got smothered and stifled in 2020.
Anyone who follows football, whether it’s making our way to a 42,500 full house or a respectable NL 3,200, knows that the whole experience is bigger than the 90 minutes + added time. It’s that first thought of the day; matchday. it’s the musings while waiting for the kettle for that first cuppa of the morning to boil, replaying games of the past, some recent, some of long ago nostalgia, of laying out the shirt, double checking your tickets, going about chores with the underlying feeling of trepidation, nerves, excitement, and no matter how well or not so well your team are faring, there’s always a modicum of optimism that today, it will all come together. Heading to the game all conversation becomes lateral, drilled, agreeable, invariably positive. If not by foot from the bus stop, or the trek from Torre train station, by car there’s the empirical parking spot that when found is celebration itself before you have even setting foot in the ground. The floodlights of Plainmoor our daymark, and with a quick check for tickets, an adjust of the scarf and hat, the day, matchday, can properly begin.
So once the season was announced to start with as yet limited numbers of supporters permitted, across the National League streams were being set up, and for those, who despite the Covid cancelled season 19/20 leaving their season ticket high and dry, already taking the leap of faith and renewing their season tickets in the hope that the capped numbers at least meant matchday and some semblance of normality. No sooner had many renewed, the new Covid guidelines were as we had feared but had hoped against – no supporters, no cry.
Streamland was for me initially met with scepticism, a reliance on not only a broadband Wifi speed faster than Ben Whitfield reaching a ball most would give up on, but of the respective clubs facilities, technical clout, lights, camera, action! We were all riding into the valley of the shadow of a cameraman sat on top of a corrugated roof and scaffolding for our football fix. But If this meant that we could still at least see the familiarity of our football ground, see our heroes on the pitch and get over the detached surrealism of it all, so be it.
I took up the Bryn Ale offer of 24 bottles for the price of 12, ordered my matchday Torquay Utd v Stockport programme, set up the TV with season ticket password, laid out the shirt and even wore my hat and scarf despite the central heating turned on, and the usual Bristow’s chat was replaced by stream dream team Dave Thomas and Ray Duffy, an amiable pairing prone to some meanderings and unmitigated myxomaplayersnamesis, something we can all admit to being guilty of, but we had our matchday back.
The one bonus of streaming games to compensate the Covid restrictions is the amount of away games I have been able to travel to, Tardis like, in the comfort of my own living room. Eastleigh, Bromley, Aldershot, Wealdstone, Hartlepool (thanks BT!), Halifax and on and on, so many WiFi miles. My days of travelling all over the country following Villa and more recently Torquay United have been curtailed somewhat with less frivolous commitments, so I have been thankful for the chance to grab so many games.
Just when all bets for a return to attending a game were off, heaven’s gates aka Plainmoor opened their turnstiles again, in a more sanitised, safer, distanced, patient approach to the matchday experience. Torquay United V Wrexham the fixture, and as cosy and convenient as streamland had been, the slippers were off and the hat, scarf and gloves were back on, firing up the Honda Jazzy J to reclaim our pew on Bristow’s bench again. Seeing the friends and faces of folk who are as much a part of the matchday. Some familiar faces have been missing, living with or in close contact to relatives with underlying health issues or just not completely comfortable with a return, the capped numbers too, a modest but welcome 1,200. An encouraging sight of an inhabited Babbacombe Road end, the away end that has rarely looked so occupied in recent years, the staggered crowds in the Pop side, no real change to the Family Stand and to Bristow’s Bench with the designated seating.
Covid times and the return to Plainmoor has been covered admirably by the staff at Torquay United. A seamless process of temperature checks to turnstiles to taking to our seats, the regular reminders to keep face coverings on, that we are one club, to remain seated on 80 minutes, a small triumph all said and done. There have had to be sacrifices, our ritualistic coffee and cheesy chips pre-match from the refreshments hut have been replaced by flasks and a packet of club biscuits. The chatter is somewhat more muffled and a guess the expression behind he masks, but once the PA strikes up Robert Miles – Children, with the looming spires of St Marychurch and the misty magic of Haytor in the background, the players entering the fray into the chill air all Covid thoughts have been forgotten.
As long as we can all keep acting responsibly, keep doing the right things, keeping the virus spread low and mercifully some day all grabbing the vaccination, keeping the essence of why football exists in the first place, for recreation and why it is so important to many; work, rest, support your local football club. Matchdays will return again for the Yellow Army and we’ll be ready and waiting. Up the Gulls!