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Football reporter describes the strange new normals of matchday reporting

A football reporter has written about his experience of the ‘new normals’ of matchday reporting now that English league football has returned in the wake of the lockdown.

Rich Sharpe of the Lancashire Telegraph was one of a handful of journalists allowed inside Blackburn Rovers’ Ewood Park stadium for Saturday’s game against Bristol City.

In piece published on Monday, Rich described the changed nature of post-Covid football reporting, including health and safety measures, piped-in crowd noise and post-match press conferences held via Zoom.

“It might not be what we’re used to, or prefer, but it’s near as dammit.  The all-round feel isn’t the same, but it’s what we’ve got for now. And that’s something we can all get behind,” he concluded.

In the piece, Rich described conversations between reporters being “held across rows of seats and gangways” due to social distancing measures, and “hand sanitiser on offer throughout”.

“There was a different car park to drive in to, only one access point to the ground, but only after submitting a health questionnaire and having your temperature taken.

“And in to the ‘amber zone’ it was, hand sanitiser on offer throughout, as was a mask, though not compulsory, with markings on the floor pointing the way.

“The artificial crowd noise was noticeable, but not off-putting. One main difference in the warm-up was seeing the starting XI come out well before the substitutes, though that appeared to be a decision of Rovers, with Bristol City training together.

“There were staggered entrances and exits from the tunnel to the pitch, and vice versa, and no changing of ends, but still music to run-out to.

“Midway through the second half as the players enjoyed a drinks break, an email landed with a Zoom code. An post-match audience with Tony Mowbray came not in close quarters as would be the norm, but online.

“Technical issues arose after the first question, posed by BBC Radio Lancashire’s Andy Bayes. Mowbray was on hand to offer advice: ‘push the screen and it will bring up a microphone, just push the mute button.

“‘I’ve done about 3,000 of them in the last few months’ he joked, as confused faces tried to follow instructions.

“While matches are seemingly now split in to four quarters, a journalist’s time inside the ground is now split in to three lots of 90 minutes.

“The first to get set-up and take in the team news, then the most important as the match takes place, and then the next hour-and-a-half to conduct interviews, get work filed and be out of the stadium by 6.30pm.

“That timescale isn’t too dissimilar to a normal matchday. Hot drinks are a luxury of the past for now, but there was water and a scramble for biscuits as they were delivered at half-time.

“With no replays inside the ground, or crowd noise giving you the cue to lift your head above your laptop, there was an extra need to focus on what was going on.

“Don’t get wrapped up in viewing this against what football would normally be like, against what you’re used to. Appreciate that fact that football is back. It might not be what we’re used to, or prefer, but it’s near as damm-it.

“The all-round feel isn’t the same, but it’s what we’ve got for now. And that’s something we can all get behind.”

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