“Joyless, but better than a Stream” Attending Stoke City lockdown games

“A brilliant long ball by Souttar, falling brilliantly for Brown on the right. He crosses, and Powell shoots! It’s blocked, but Nick blasts home the rebound! Goal!! It’s 1-0 to Stoke!! Away from home!!”
Normally, I’d be jumping around, arms in the air, shouting something incomprehensible, whilst no doubt bouncing off the guys next to me who’d be doing something similar.
However, today here in Bristol, this sort behaviour would be frowned upon in no uncertain terms, and I would probably be asked to leave.
Because today I am in the Ashton Gate press box reporting for Moorlands Radio, so I’m not allowed to do…well, almost anything.
I have to go straight to my seat, and stay there for 4 hours. I’m surprised they don’t supply ropes to tie me down.
Further, the stadium is practically empty, so any echoes of my exclamations would no doubt be heard as far away as the Clifton suspension bridge, just visible over the North Stand. And that would be rather embarrassing.
Instead, I slip into overdrive, filing the goal photo I was hopefully lucky enough to capture, logging the exact time of the goal, and hurriedly typing away a description of every relevant aspect of the goal, adding any individual eccentricities (“No Nick Powells were hurt in the making of this goal, and he managed to stay on his feet for the whole time! Hm, that doesn’t sound right, are we sure it wasn’t Tommy Smith who scored?!”).
By the time I’ve done all that I’ve missed the goal celebration and the subsequent kick-off, and just pray I’ve got my facts right because (unlike the “streamers” at home) I don’t get any action replays. Thankfully I overhear Matt Sandoz in front of me confirming the assist for Jacob Brown, and Matt is never wrong.
No time for a breather as the game has already kicked off again, and Norrington-Davies is (unsurprisingly) being reproached for doing something naughty…
I have written before about the highs & lows of reporting Stoke games from the press box. The release of losing yourself in a game, sharing a drink with pals, having a “mental” after an unlikely last-minute winner away from home…well, that all goes out the window. When you’re at a match, you’re there to work.
Although that can be a drag at times, it is still a privilege to be in the press box, or even (in these times) to witness a live game at all. And when you can’t feel your hands, your face, your feet or any limbs due to the cold, wind and rain, you have to remind yourself of that. (Sometimes I resort to sanitising my hands just to create warmth!)
Presently, there are no cosy press rooms to retreat to for hot & cold running refreshments. You take a flask & sandwiches, and hope they last. The clubs’ covid rules tie you to your seat, and you’re lucky to be able to use the loo.
That said, most clubs I’ve visited have shown bizarre lapses in lockdown procedure, which is ironic as before each game you receive their individual dossier outlining strict rules including form completions and temperatures to be taken.
But then you find the seats aren’t particularly social distanced, or they’ve opened up a coffee room where people mingle sometimes without masks, or they have a post-match press conference with a scrum of reporters all huddled together!
(I have a recording of Tony Pulis being aghast by a marauding group of microphone-wielding journalists!)
I can’t comment on the setup at the bet365 because bizarrely the only club that have turned Moorlands (& others) down this season are Stoke! I can go and report City’s away games at places like Luton, Wednesday, Birmingham, Bristol, Derby and Forest etc, but for some reason they’ve no room for journalists at their 30,000 stadium. But that is their decision, and if it is actually made for safety reasons, then so be it.
What concerns me more is supporters’ attitudes to the current situation. They’ve been allowed to purchase streams of most matches, but they’re learning that it’s just not the same as actually attending a match.
An example was the recent Bristol win, which I attended. I thought it was a goodish game with a great result. But the response from those who’d watched the stream was extremely negative. In fact many tend to switch off their streams or don’t even bother watching at all whether they’ve paid or not.
Further, die-hard Stoke fans have openly been exclaiming that they won’t be buying a season-ticket “to watch this rubbish every week”! Yes, die-hard fans!
It’s understandable though with Stoke’s second-half slump to this season. Since mid-December when they lost Tyrese Campbell to injury, MON has only managed 29 points in 28 games. In the dire 2018-19 season, City got 34 points (in 30 games mid-Dec to end-of-season), which was the end of Gary Rowett & that poor start for Nathan Jones! MON now has 2 games left just to match that grim Nathan slump. That’s not conducive to attracting season ticket sales.
Now I suspect these fans’ outcries are just words, and that come the day, sales won’t drop as drastically as social media suggests. After all, as I’ve concluded here, watching a stream is hardly exciting at the best of times, and the attraction of live footy will always be there.
But with supporters getting out of the habit of going to games, coupled with the soulless stream experience, and Stoke’s poor end-of-term performances, season-ticket sales numbers are understandably being closely monitored by the media.