How I watched football: 2020-21

Going to watch football in 2020-21 wasn’t easy. Professional football was a lockout. And as local and national lockdowns came and went, so too did differing restrictions on was accessible. Even when I found games I could attend, navigating my way into them wasn’t always easy. 

Arriving at The Saffrons, home of Eastbourne Town in late September, and finding their ornate old turnstile locked, I tried a different approach and ended up in the adjacent bowling green. The bowlers didn’t know how to get in either, but suggested I shout over the fence to ask someone. 
“Excuse me?”
The one bloke on the terrace in ear shot turns round.
How do I get into the ground?”
He paused for a while, shrugged, and then said, “I think it’s over that side.”
We’ve all felt like we’ve lost days, weeks, months of our lives in coronavirus lockdowns, but few of us can have found ourselves, like this guy, five minutes into watching a live football match with no certainty as to how we got there.

Pre-Christmas it was noticeable from the games I attended that non-league crowds were up. And yet, whilst most people were rediscovering their grassroots, the team I saw most this season was Doncaster Rovers. Thanks to iFollow I watched them more than I have in over a decade, but I was also lucky enough to see them in the flesh too. I’m not one to cash in favours, nor attempt blags. Not usually. But I couldn’t come to the terms with the idea of never seeing James Coppinger in a Rovers shirt again. And so as a volunteer co-commentator I was able to watch wins at Charlton and Portsmouth, as well as disappointing defeats at Plymouth and West Ham. And, most importantly to me, I got to see Copps find the net at Wimbledon and Gillingham.

Seeing Coppinger in a number 26 shirt was a welcome source of consistency in an unusual year. There were others too. Whatever fate faces the world its good to be reminded that I can always find continuity in Lewisham Borough’s lack of an end product, and that a Tuesday night at Dulwich in December will always be freezing.

It wasn’t long after I finally got the feeling in my toes back from that Dulwich game that the country, and football, locked down again. Save for a couple of commentary stints, there’d be no matches until April, by which time I was so desperate to escape the flat I made a 12 mile round trip, on foot, to watch the Bromley & South London League First Division. Not even the Premier. I was one of only two spectators there. Not because of Covid-19 restrictions, but because the level was so low no-one else cared.

But I needed to be there, to escape the room I’ve lived, slept and worked in for a year, and escape to a much-missed space. Throughout the season, even though my football visits were fleeting, they often brought welcome reminders of the abstract joy the game can bring. There was the smiles on the handful of Wimbledon supporters allowed to attend Plough Lane’s first game; the lads at Eastbourne Town who spent half-time cheering on the bowls match over the fence as if it was a Cup Final; and the epic 0-3 down to 4-3 win cup comeback at Croydon that resulted in one fan doing a full 400 metre lap of the athletic track in scarf-waving celebration.

The season has faded out now; I gave up my tickets to watch Wales at the Euros months ago. And yet it feels like one which ends with a lot of unanswered questions; will fans return to professional football next season, or will non-leagues attendance-bounce continue? What’s it going to be like watching Doncaster Rovers without James Coppinger? And why the hell is there a seven foot minion behind the goal at Sheppey United?

by Glen Wilson

Below is a photograph from every match I attended this season. No expensive cameras, no special lenses. Just a far from the latest iPhone and the Instagram app.

Match 1 | August

Peckham Town 0-0 AFC Cubo (5-4 on penalties)
London Senior Trophy Final, Badgers Sports Ground (Cray Valley PM)

Match 2 | September

AFC Croydon Athletic 0-3 Sutton Common Rovers
FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, Mayfield Stadium

Match 3 | September

Peckham Town 0-0 Borden Village
Kent County League Premier Division, The Menace Arena

Match 4 | September

Sheppey United 4-1 Uxbridge
FA Cup Preliminary Round, Holm Park

Match 5 | September

Meridian VP 1-1 Lewisham Borough
Southern Counties East Football League Division One, Meridian Sports Ground

Match 6 | September

Charlton Athletic 1-3 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, The Valley

Match 7 | September

Whyteleafe 2-0 Binfield
FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round, Church Road

Match 8 | September

Eastbourne Town 6-2 Hassocks
Southern Combination League Premier Division, The Saffrons

Match 9 | October

Cray Valley Paper Mills 2-0 Aveley
FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round, Badgers Sports Ground

Match 10 | October

Portsmouth 0-1 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, Fratton Park

Match 11 | October

Plymouth Argyle 2-1 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, Home Park

Match 12 | October

Bridon Ropes 0-0 Lewisham Borough
Southern Counties East Football League Division One, Meridian Sports Ground

Match 13 | November

AFC Wimbledon 2-2 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, Plough Lane

Match 14 | December

AFC Croydon 4-3 Athletic Newham
London Senior Trophy 1st Round, Crystal Palace Stadium

Match 15 | December

Dulwich Hamlet 2-1 Eastbourne Borough
National League South, Champion Hill

Match 16 | December

Redhill 1-1 Spelthorne Sports
Combined Counties League Premier Division, Kiln Brow

Match 17 | December

Welling United 0-2 Oxford City
FA Trophy 2nd Round, Park View Road

Match 18 | December

Borrowash Victoria 0-1 Graham St Prims
East Midlands Counties League Premier Division, Asterdale Bowl

Match 19 | January

West Ham United 4-0 Doncaster Rovers
FA Cup 4th Round, The London Stadium

Match 20 | March

Gillingham 2-2 Doncaster Rovers
Football League One, Priestfield

Match 21 | April

Lewisham Athletic 0-1 West Bromley Albion // Lewisham Athletic 2-1 West Bromley Albion
Bromley & South London League First Division, Warren Avenue Playing Fields

Match 22 | May

Ground Hoppers 3-1 Lewisham Project // Ground Hoppers 3-2 Lewisham Project
Bromley & South London League First Division, Sydenham Sports Ground

Match 23 | May

FC Elmstead 5-2 AFC Cubo
London Senior Trophy Semi-Final, Meridian Sports Ground

Match 24 | May

Eltham Town 2-0 Long Lane JFC
London Junior Cup Quarter Final, The Oaks

Further photographs from each of the games featured in this blog can be found on the popular STAND fanzine, Instagram account

popular STAND on Instagram

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