Football so vital for the nation during these strange times

Stags celebrate their win at Forest Green Rovers in the middle of a strange and unique season.Stags celebrate their win at Forest Green Rovers in the middle of a strange and unique season.
Stags celebrate their win at Forest Green Rovers in the middle of a strange and unique season.
One day short of a full year on the sidelines through furlough and I find myself back in the Chad Mansfield Town hot seat today.

And it's been the weirdest year of my life.

When you have worked all your life no one can prepare you for the shock of not working.

Initially it does feel like a holiday and, with the weather so good last year, the relaxation was welcome.

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But the increasing financial bite of reduced income, the worry if your job is still going to be there and the sudden lapses in memory as to what day it actually is do take a toll.

Plus, even if you could afford it, there is nowhere to go to spend your money – no pubs open, no holidaying, no gigs to watch, no people you are allowed to socialise with.

So it's just time on your hands – lots of it.

Thankfully I have enough hobbies and interests to fill much of that along with long daily exercise walks exploring trails I did not know existed.

But for me, and many people the biggest bonus has been the football season and its gritty determination to see it out, despite rising Covid cases and a real worry it would again be terminated early.

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Despite my absence from the Chad, I have attended every Stags home game to report for the Press Association, keeping my eye in, and watched all but two of the away games on iFollow, where Martin Shaw and Dean Foulkes have done a sterling job.

For many people on furlough, football has been a lifeline, the fixtures giving some structure to our days and weeks, something to look forward to and something to discuss, albeit over social media and not over a few pints down the pub.

Despite some critics, keeping football going really has helped keep national spirits up and given us some form of normality at a time when that has been in very short supply.

The players deserve huge admiration for the way they have adapted, playing game after game on a ridiculously tight schedule and forced to regularly mix with lots of people who just might inadvertently pass on the virus to them, despite all the tests and checks.

They have provided a unique 'front line' service to us.

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Amid the frantic schedule, Stags, and players at all levels, have gone through the 'tired barrier' and the 'pain barrier' for us without any adrenalin boost a crowd could give them and produced some truly remarkable games.

Watching from the press box at the One Call Stadium has certainly been a strange and eerie affair.

Needing to be in your seat fully masked for 90 minutes before kick-off has seen very early arrivals and, being sat several seats from each other, far less pre-match chat than usual.

Keeping the mask on until you leave over five hours later has also been challenging - though nice and warm on the coldest nights.

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The lack of fans and the noise they produce has been the most difficult thing to accept.

You have to convince your brain you are watching a proper League Two game and not a training session practice match.

But simply having football has been worth its weight in gold in keeping people's morale and interest high at a time when increasing levels of fear and depression have swamped the country.

Football always was and always will be a great escape from the often harsh reality of life and, even in these strange circumstances, has more than played its part.

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However. with so many people seriously ill or passing away and so many jobs lost, plus the inability to actually attend the games, some fans may have not surprisingly turned their back on the beautiful game for a while. I am sure that will change in time as we heal together as a nation.

All we can look forward to now is Stags to achieve the points needed for safety and relax, looking forward to what we all hope will be a return to normality next season and a resumption of a life as close to what we knew as possible.

And in the meantime I will have to learn how to operate the Chad's computer system all over again!

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