Just as shocking as the thought that the footballing globe might stop spinning due to the recent Covid-19 outbreak is the idea that the media satellites that orbit it might simultaneously come crashing down. The age of social media has only multiplied the number of pre-existing sources of dissection of the minutiae of footballers’ performances, on and off the pitch. For many, it is a welcome distraction from the twists and turns of their own lives.
Podcasts dominate my consumption of this football media, for both the more strategic and emotional analysis of the sport that dominates so much of people’s lives. The Guardian Football Weekly’s Max Rushden or the Totally Football Show’s James Richardson—once of the former’s parish—is my bush telegraph to the world outside our strange little academic bubble. Local coverage of my team gives me a link back home, reminding me that amongst the stresses of essay deadlines there is life, more pure and simple, at least between some white chalk lines for 90 minutes every weekend. And that my beloved local community goes on without me; a strangely comforting thought when one becomes overly obsessed with comparatively petty academic concerns. Both national and local podcast coverage, moreover, provides a soothing soundtrack to the solitary writing and reflection surrounding Oxford essays.
Football media, as much as the game itself, has become central to my world. It may be more difficult for me to attend games at university, but it is easier to spend hours a day listening to often light-hearted, occasionally hard-hitting, analysis. So what happens when the subject of the podcasts comes to a shockingly sudden halt?
Only two weeks after attending my most recent football game, Reading v Sheffield United, I am contemplating months ahead without my favourite form of entertainment. And with this comes the inevitable fear that these aural companions might too disappear for an indefinite period. Also, of course, I am back from Oxford for a similarly ill-defined period. We simply cannot second-guess this virus. While the broader context of COVID-19 makes this whole article perhaps seem indulgent, self-isolation provides a useful time to pause and reassess why the game and the media that surrounds it matters. In fact, it seems to me that the outbreak of the virus has highlighted exactly why it does. In a time of great uncertainty, and consequently worry, sport—in my case football—would be my comfort blanket. The society that springs from the sport, particularly through the media, is integral to this, hence my panic that podcasts might no longer provide constancy and relief from a world where academic progress, and more importantly even our health, is at risk.
Thankfully, these podcasts have proven resilient. The larger of them have huge bases of listeners and commercial motivations to match. This means they are likely to continue for as long as possible notwithstanding the social imperative to defy the virus, while recording remotely so as to observe precautions against it. The importance of localised analysis has been recognised in new ways as well, not just to those who love making or listening to them for their intrinsic value, but also for the strengthening effect they have on football communities in this time of crisis.
Indeed both have shown an awareness that the game does not exist in a vacuum, helping to spread messages regarding health and helping the community, such as through promoting food banks, in this difficult time. While the football media, especially in the United Kingdom, has often taken flak for its vituperative criticism of football players and fans alike, what the response of these podcasts to the coronavirus has shown is that we individuals who make up sporting communities matter. The game may have stopped temporarily in the absence of fans, but the communities sport fosters persevere defiantly, showing the invaluable service they can render to us all in this difficult time.