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It’s the moment football fans have been waiting for since March: the game is back, with the Premier League resuming on Wednesday June 17.
For many, football is a lifestyle and not just a game – and it seems absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. “I’m so excited for it to return, it’s a welcome distraction from the stress of daily life and I really didn’t realise how much it meant until it wasn’t there,” Liverpool fan, Glen Hancocks, tells HuffPost UK.
Hancocks will be watching the first game with his dad at home – they’re both Liverpool fans. “As we can’t go to Anfield right now, that’s the next best thing as we used to go together,” he says.
Ahead of the first live kickoff in three months, we spoke to football fans about what the return of the game means to them, plus how they’ll be enjoying it.
‘Lockdown has proved to me how much I rely on and love football’
James Lawton, 37, from Barnsley, is a Barnsley FC season ticket holder. He’ll have to wait until June 20 to watch his team play in the Championship. He’s “missed football massively” and can’t wait until 6pm when everything kicks off.
“Not having football in my life has been difficult,” he says. “Lockdown has proved to me how much I rely on and love it. I’ve been watching the BBC rewind programmes and Match of the Day top 10s. It felt like I was watching sport from a past era – when it was only three months ago.”
Lawton plans to watch Wednesday’s first game – Aston Villa vs Sheffield United – at home with a couple of beers.
“My wife may relegate me into my man cave, though, as she’s been overjoyed at there being no football,” he jokes. “I would love to watch it at a boozer, as that’s what I used to do before lockdown, especially on Sundays.”
He notes it’ll be strange to watch a game without any fans in the stadium and is curious to see how players celebrate without them. “I predict the celebrations will be very low key without the buzz of the crowd,” he says.
‘I’ve missed talking about the matches with people’
Laura McNamee, 28, based in Dublin, is eagerly awaiting Friday, when her team, Norwich City, will play Southampton. She plans to watch their first couple of games at home and will be heading to a friend’s house to watch the Man United match on June 27.
“I’m delighted football is returning,” she says. “I’ve missed talking about the matches with people. No one else in my family watches football, so my dad and I would always talk about the Premier League and the Championship – I support Norwich and he supports Leeds.”
McNamee has also missed Fantasy Football, because she had a league at work and it gave her the opportunity to discuss the sport with her colleagues.
“I miss the entertainment, because you never know what’s going to happen in the matches – and Norwich are close to relegation so it was interesting to see how they were doing each week,” she says.
“It also meant you had something to talk about each weekend because during lockdown, everything starts to get repetitive.”
‘I’m really looking forward to breaking up the monotony of lockdown’
Connor Chambers, 26, from Bedford, is excited to watch a live game for the first time in months, but has mixed feelings about the Premier League’s return due to Covid-19 concerns.
“I don’t really agree with the football coming back too soon, but as a football fan, I’m looking forward to breaking up the monotony of lockdown with the familiar excitement of watching a game,” he says.
“I’m concerned about the wider impact in terms of smaller teams who will struggle financially after not making money for the last few months, with the risk of relegation very much a reality.”
Chambers, who’s a Tottenham supporter, went to as many games as possible before lockdown, but will be watching the first game back at home with family.
“I miss the change of conversation when it comes to football,” he says. “My brothers, Dad and I would usually discuss football on a daily basis – whether it be the scores from the weekend, transfer rumours or general football speculation.
“But there’s only really been one topic to discuss, which was when it would return. I’m looking forward to being able to talk about football again properly.”
‘I’m over the moon that football is coming back’
Jaydan Blake, 24, from Luton, is looking forward to watching his team, Manchester United, in their first game back against Spurs on Friday.
“I’m over the moon that football is coming back, I didn’t think it was going to die to [the] pandemic we are currently in,” he says.
However, he acknowledges the experience of watching the game is going to be unrecognisable. “Usually I would either go to the pub and watch them or a shisha lounge with a few of my friends,” he says. “But due to the situation, I’ll be watching it at home.”
Blake also wonders how the teams will perform without a live crowd. “I think it’ll be different because when a team is losing, the crowd is like an additional man and they are the extra motivation,” he says.
‘I’m eager to see how it unfolds’
Chloe Woolaway, 23, from Canterbury, is excited about the Premier League being back – she’s been filling her time watching the German Bundesliga without it, and is looking forward to seeing how the two compare.
“I’m eager to see how not having spectators in the stadiums will affect the Premier League sides and how individual players will cope not having a certain type of atmosphere they’re so used to playing in,” she says.
“Players play differently according to certain surroundings, so I’d like to see how those performances are affected. I think all these factors could definitely change things up at both ends of the table, so I’m eager to see how it unfolds.”
While she’s excited to have the Premier League back, Woolaway is disappointed the Women’s Super League won’t be returning this summer. Instead, it was concluded on points.
The FA says it examined the “logistical, operational and financial challenges the game currently faces” and decided ending the league early was “in the best interest of the women’s game”.
“I look forward to a bigger and better season if that’s the case,” Woolaway says. “I know Chelsea Women were crowned champions based on points per game which is not the way many clubs, including Chelsea, would have wanted things to play out.
“Being a Chelsea fan, I don’t entirely agree with this conclusion – but a decision needed to be had and it probably was the best one for the future of the league and the clubs.”