Coronavirus and me (and football)

In November 2016 I was between life and death in a Moscow isolation hospital. Long story short, my son is to blame (kind of).

Anyhow, I’d picked up a highly infectious illness that all Russian kids get when they start school. Since I went to school in Blanchardstown, County Dublin, I was susceptible.

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Long story short, lying half dead in a bed, to paraphrase Shane McGowan, I never want me or anyone I even like to go through such an ordeal. So when the coronavirus wound its merry way west (or east depending on where you’re standing), I began to worry.

Coronavirus panic

Put aside the toilet paper, pasta, rice, milk, masks and even bleach, it’s just another virus that is moving through our increasingly mobile world. The Black Death/BubonicPlague (1331-51) wiped out between 75 to 200 million people in Eurasia.

It didn’t just finish in 1351, but made more comebacks than the Rolling Stones, with each time around believed to the the last. The most recent “Black Death/Plague” outbreak was in Madagascar in 2017, in England the Bubonic Plague last struck in 1910.

This stuff happens and usually comes from lack of hygiene in personal or food care. And the idea of quarantine has an origin in Dubrovnik’s decision to self-isolate in 1377. So what we’re seeing now is nothing new, it’s just different.

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In 2000/01 the cold, hard winter of foot and mouth disease set me back on track out of Ireland. Everything in Louth (where I was based) shut down and from hurling to football, nothing was happening.

The Irish rugby team lost out on a definite Grand Slam, the Louth Hurlers were in Division 2 with the strongest batch of players for a generation played three matches before in 2002 were “restructured” down to Division 3. It was painful, it was terrible, yet it was animals who suffered.

Criminality ruled in the borderlands with hearty tales of hundreds of thousands of EU subsidised sheep invisible on the Cooley Mountains. Nobody panicked, we were not in danger, we just felt like the shut down would never end. 20 years on, we are right to panic.

Football Armageddon

We all reckon we’ll be okay. We look at victim age profile and say, “Nah, not me.” I was a hockey in Germany, football in Ireland, GAA Congress in Ireland, mixing, mingling, not thinking much beyond getting things done.

I’d tickets for Loko’s first game of 2020, considered going then knew it was better to spend it with herself. I was going to visit the game, last weekend, with a friend and his wife, just returned from Switzerland. They’d been in Austria, Slovenia and Italy on a road trip.

Last Monday, being a Bank Holiday, I was also keen to catch up with him before we went on air. I also wanted to take Tim, my super spreader son, out for some craic. My friend called, himself and the Missus might meet us for early dinner later on.

He messaged at six that they’d stay in, jetlag. He went home from work early on Tuesday and on Wednesday was diagnosed with a severe flu, not coronavirus. If it had been, and he spread it, he could face one year in jail under Russian law. He’d been at a football match, with thousands of others, he could have spread it easily.

So football matches are played out behind closed doors, what happens? We all stay home and watch it on tv? No, there are genuinely brain damaged attention seekers, the kind who like setting off flares and going online to prove their love for their club, who don’t give a crap about society. Like PSG fans during their game with Borussia Dortmund. Or quarter witted Manchester United fans during their game with LASK Linz.

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Leagues are shutting down across Europe, just as the Chinese League did months ago. I’ve had discussions with fans here, of football and ice hockey, that it’s best to be cautious and then see what happens. I’ve been in a minority. I had to argue with my own GAA club in Moscow to warn members regarding best practice a week ago and argue again over postponing training (as GAA clubs across Europe and Ireland have done).

The sheer lack of care for the common good is not surprising, it’s just the norm in the #mefirst society. Football media and clubs try to make out we’re facing a football Armageddon, this is bolloxology. Football and sports will survive, the most vulnerable in our society, might not.

Profits of doom

There is money being made from sports going into a Spring hibernation. There is money being lost equally. I’ve interviewed officials from football clubs in Ireland, Germany, Russia and Italy this week. Irish clubs depend on gate receipts, the one club I spoke with said they’d survive for a month with no games as they’ve already spoken with players, Government authorities and supporters will donate. They will survive.

The Bundesliga 2 club have a cash reserve, said they expect to be back in action in (late) April and have already spoken with members/owners about taking a loan from a sponsor bank. They will survive. The Italian club has outstanding debts to players.

They’re Serie B and have asked their owner to increase a proposed loan. His family are unhappy with putting money into his plaything while their company is stretched. The official told that if they are playing again in May, they might survive.

Russian clubs don’t need gate receipts, no fans means more profits. But as much as they’d like to pretend all is okay, it’s not. This weekend is behind closed doors, coronavirus is far more widespread than admitted and there is a reluctance to warn/advise. The feeling is – if we let people know they should wash their hands and not touch their face, they’ll panic. Panic and then there’ll be no toilet rolls.

There is a little truth in this and Russians with a light cold or hangover are far more likely to lie in bed and rest than Irish folk who are severely hanging. However this self-regard needs to be balanced with another local belief. Don’t talk about suicide or offer support services, you’ll only encourage it.

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So as I sit in Moscow, thinking of hosting a radio sports show with almost no sport on show, I think of the lawdy daws in Cheltenham. The scum outside the Parc des Princes and Linz stadia. I consider how some clubs might suffer, how many still don’t grasp the dangers of training or attending matches.

I think of the Russian professional football league (third tier) holding a warm weather tournament in Turkey, where a Russian player and official were infected by Covid-19. I think of Mikel Arteta of Arsenal being infected.

I think of my delight, then dismay (and shame) when reading “Juventus player tests positive”, that finally the Mapei doping factory were to be exposed, sadly Daniele Rugani just has coronavirus.

But most of all I think about my mam, two of my uncles, of elderly relatives who might not get through a bad dose. I think of how selfish I was to land from Germany, having a fortnight previous being in Belgium, and coming from Russia, to meet my mam. God forbid I’d Covid-19 and passed it on. No jail sentence would assuage my guilt.

And I think that I’ve got to stop winding my son up about how he should be guilty for putting me in hospital on a life support machine. Anyway, I don’t think he cares, he probably figures I deserved it for not taking him to McDonalds that weekend.

Author Details

Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13. First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, Host of Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow, #ChampTalks2020 and write the odd article. Former Director of the Centre of International Relations at the Russian State Social University in Moscow. And to make things more fun, he produced and hosted #ChampTalks2018 for UNESCO, Moscow's Tolerance Centre and Capital FM.

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