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Two Sheffield amateur teams were branded disrespectful for playing football after the Queen’s death. But why?

Two months on, we reflect on the FA’s controversial decision to cancel all football fixtures as a ‘mark of respect’ – and what it tells us about class.

Shane Rounce
Shane Rounce (Unsplash)

The cancellation of scheduled football fixtures on the weekend following the Queen’s death had nothing to do with respect. It was a move intended to silence fans because the Football Association (FA) had decided that they could not be trusted to mourn appropriately – to unthinkingly comply with an imposed minute’s silence – an assumption that is undeniably wrapped up in classism.

Nothing highlighted the insincerity of the FA’s position more than an incident that unfolded in Sheffield shortly after the decision was made, involving two local amateur sides.

On 9 September, Sheffield International FC announced on Twitter that their scheduled league game against Byron House FC had been cancelled, and that they would instead play a friendly match. When this was condemned by the Sheffield and District Fair Play League (SDFPL), they said they would instead hold a ‘training session’ – at which Byron House FC were also welcome.

The tongue-in-cheek thread that ensued drew plenty of attention online, but it also highlighted the absurdity of the League’s, and the FA’s, decision. One tweet suggested a game of rugby instead of football, “seeing as that’s deemed respectful enough”. (Rugby matches were not cancelled following the Queen’s death.)

The SDFPL’s response only further highlighted the absurdity of their position. In a statement released on 10 September, they branded the behaviour of the two clubs ‘disrespectful and despicable’ and stated that they would ‘be dealt with in the strongest possible terms’. The matter has been the subject of an investigation by the SDFPL, as well as by Sheffield & Hallamshire County FA.

When contacted for comment on the investigation by Now Then, a spokesperson from Sheffield & Hallamshire Country FA said: “I can confirm that we have now dealt with the matter”. How exactly it has been ‘dealt with’ is unclear, but it would appear that they are intent on brushing it under the carpet. Sheffield International FC did not respond to our request for comment.

The decision to cancel football matches on the weekend following the Queen’s death was ultimately made by the Football Association (FA), the governing body responsible for all competitive English football. But with no government order mandating the cancellation of any sport, other sporting events were allowed to go ahead. The cancellations included everything from grassroots level to professional football – even children’s league games.

The FA’s decision had an impact on fans and players, but there are also many who rely on these fixtures for work. The majority of match day workers – stewards, cleaners, retail and kiosk workers – are on zero-hour contracts, meaning that many will have lost pay due to fixtures being cancelled.

A class issue

Although there has been a recent shift in attendance demographics at Premier League games due to prohibitive ticket prices, at lower levels and particularly at the grassroots level the game remains uniquely accessible to working-class communities. The sport presents an unusual degree of social mobility for players (albeit less so where women’s football is concerned), with many hailing from under-privileged backgrounds. Sheffield-born striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who now plays for Everton and England, recalls both of his parents working multiple jobs throughout his youth. By comparison, Rugby Union – which was allowed to go ahead the same weekend that football was cancelled – is a game favoured by Britain’s public school system.

Richard Boyle
Richard Boyle (Unsplash)

In fact, whilst many schools cancelled football games in line with FA’s decision, Eton College played two football matches that weekend, seemingly without concern for disrespecting the deceased monarch, with whom the school had close ties.

Perhaps as a result of its working-class foundations, football fans are known for pushing back against authority. (No football match is complete without somebody heckling the ref.) But fans have also engaged in remarkable levels of organisation to protect the sport from profiteering and elitism - for example in 2021, when they united in protest against the proposal of a European Super League.

And while there are undoubtedly plenty of football fans who are monarchists, certain teams have a history of outspoken republicanism. At the 2022 FA Cup final, Liverpool fans booed both Prince William and the National Anthem en masse.

Fundamentally, then, the decision to cancel football matches whilst other sports fixtures went ahead was the result of classism, coupled with the fear that football fans (and perhaps even players) could not be trusted to observe a minute’s silence. Perhaps this fear was not unfounded, but enforcing participation in displays of ritualised mourning also achieves nothing. Forcing people to mourn is disingenuous at best and authoritarian at worst, and people – football fans or not – have a right to dissent.

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