Don’t let government distract you again, footballers hugging is not to blame for the UK’s Covid mess

Manchester City have continued to embrace after goals

Players hugging is most certainly not “an insult to the NHS” as we keep being told. No, no. That would be the fact that since the Conservatives gained power in 2010, the average salary for a nurse has dropped by 8% based on the consumer prices index (CPI) – or by £2,646, according to the Royal College of Nurses (RCN).

Or that migrant doctors and other healthcare workers on the frontline who have contracted Covid while caring for NHS patients with the virus are in a devastating limbo after a parliamentary bill that would have given them the right to remain in the UK has been postponed.

The disastrous spike in cases and deaths we are seeing during the latest wave of the pandemic is not due to me, or you or Sheffield United revelling in a winner.

It is the consequence of dithering and delaying from the government.

While a tiny percentage of players have been idiots and broken Covid rules, magnified by the reality that those abiding by them do not make for headlines or hits, the game has proven it can carry on and adapt even in the most uncomfortable of scenarios.

One of the moments of the campaign has been Aston Villa teenager Louie Barry scoring against a strong Liverpool side in the FA Cup after an outbreak at the club saw the hosts field an XI containing seven members of the under-23 squad and four from the under-18s.

The scenes that followed, him being near-tears and the huddle with his fellow youngsters topped up by his wholesome post-match interview, were the dose of goodness we need more and not less of right now.

Football without fans is already stripped of so much of its soul, with matchdays at the stadium just feeling like one big contractual obligation.

It is the moments of emotion we get, most especially when the ball hits the back of the net, that keep it feeling a semblance of normal, that keep us invested.

But the optics. Optics, optics, optics. “Some of the scenes we have seen have been brainless and give out an awful message,” Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS select committee, said.

If that’s his take on Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly’s handshake jive, it would be great to get his thoughts on Boris Johnson’s press briefings, Priti Patel contradicting Downing Street while providing “clarity” on restrictions, the failed £22bn track-and-trace system, why he voted against extending free school meals and pay rises for nurses… and the beat goes on.

Meanwhile, Premier League officials have been told to tell club captains that “the eyes of the world are on us and we need to set an example”.

Football is again being asked to be the guiding light, while holding the status of the most convenient scapegoat. How about government setting the example? 

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