Following a hiatus lasting more than one hundred days, the English Premier League made a return to action on June 17th. 20 teams returned to action as they resumed from where the league closed down in mid-March. The question of the title was quickly decided as Liverpool romped home to their first top-flight trophy in 30 years and their fans duly celebrated the news.
Liverpool supporters were relieved to see the EPL’s Project Restart come to fruition as a proposed abandonment of the division would have potentially robbed them of that title. It was a welcome return for the red half of Merseyside but, as a whole, football’s return came with mixed reactions.
The remainder of the 2019/20 Premier League season had to be played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Widespread testing of players, officials and staff was needed to ensure safety of all those involved but, the lack of support within the stadiums made it a hollow return for some.
Others may have felt that football returned too soon: In France and the Netherlands, the top flight divisions were scrapped, leaving governing bodies free to focus on next season and some thought that England should follow suit.
In the main, football was welcomed back unconditionally but for those who were unable to support their team in person, it just wasn’t the same.
For those wanting to watch the Premier League on TV, there was some mixed news. Most games enjoyed some live coverage with a select few given over to terrestrial channels for the first time in the EPL’s history. Fans could enjoy a surfeit of their favourite sport – as long as they didn’t venture outside of the house.
With pubs and bars still closed in the early days of project restart, viewing was restricted to individual homes. It was a relief to see football on TV after such a long hiatus but for many, the lack of a big match experience was an issue.
With no football to enjoy from mid-March to mid-June, fans had to find other ways in which to enjoy their favourite sport. Reruns of important matches from global tournaments were showcased by TV while digital alternatives to the real thing enjoyed greater interest.
Without being able to watch games in pubs with friends, football fans are finding other ways of recreating the true match experience.
Classic gaming titles such as FIFA and Football Manager helped to fill the void for many supporters. The world of eSports continued as normal so viewers could watch the professionals in action, but the real enjoyment came from playing themselves.
Digital football versions can also be found in the most unlikely locations: Over at the online casinos, there are a number of ways in which supporters can get their football fix. Live casinos showcase a game known as Live Football Studio while there is a host of online slots games available.
Slot machines come with an extensive variety of themes and sport, plus football in particular, is often showcased. Some of these titles follow a fairly basic theme of lining up matching images in order to activate a cash prize. Generic football players and other images are used in these titles, but other slots are more faithful to the original game. In some slot games, some of the world’s best players are instantly recognizable and the graphics involved are quite stunning.
Other slots may involve gameplay that is closely linked to the action on a football pitch. The act of beating an opponent and progressing through the competition is replicated in the base game and the bonus rounds. Because of this, it’s easy to see why slot machines can help to fill a gap left by the absence of real-life football.
The digital world held a number of options for football supporters who wanted to enjoy some action during the sports downtime. It’s likely that this renewed increase will continue in the future as soon as the close season takes over.
Digital football games have tended to dominate but, out in the real world, the spirit of the 1970s is alive in some places. Tabletop football games have been enjoying a comeback of sorts and, perhaps the most popular of these is the iconic Subbuteo.
Originally released in the 1940s by Peter Adolph, this football replica quickly became a ‘must have’ for every young football fan and Subbuteo was to peak in the 1970s. Replica teams were created and hand painted in a multitude of kits before players took to the green baize and operated the ‘flick to kick’ method.
As digital titles started to dominate at the start of a new century, Subbuteo started to wane and it was eventually phased out. However, diehard fans and players kept the name alive and, at the start of 2020, the game enjoyed a rather timely relaunch.
Subbuteo is unlikely to ever reach the heights that it enjoyed in the 1970s but there is renewed interest in the game and, for some football fans, it’s helped to fill a void during the sport’s hiatus.
Plans for the future of football are very fluid at the moment. For now, it’s a case of concluding the remainder of the 2019/20 campaign and sorting out issues involving relegation and the European places.
Moving forward, the big step is to allow fans back into the stadiums. No-one can be certain as to when this can happen or what measures will be required for those fans to attend in safety. It’s an issue that will develop in the weeks and months that follow but for now, there are options for those who want to pass some time before they can enjoy the big match experience once again.