The Gantry View: a season of empty seats

Oli Mooney, who is part of the club’s media team, provides his take on covering matches during lockdown…

We as part of the football club and the media have always been privileged to witness the sporting world from behind the scenes and up close; never has this been truer than now.

Covering the Spireites home and away – like at every club across the land – has its highs and lows, but the loyal and ever-vocal supporters were always there in the flesh to lift spirits when times were tough and the journey home seemed that extra bit longer.

This season we witnessed a historic change as, for the first time, the semantics of ‘behind-closed-doors’ shifted from common practice for the occasional mid-season friendly to an enforced rule spanning what almost certainly will be the vast majority of the league and cup campaign.

Granted, thanks to the great efforts of staff and volunteers, elite football continues to be played as it always had done, but the absence of supporters has taken away much of the natural excitement and energy that whizzed around a football stadium on matchday.

With just one Spireites league game played in front of spectators this season, a 1-0 victory at Sutton United, to this day there isn’t a single member of the staff, media or squad who has become truly accustomed to such a bizarre way of working.

Whilst the roar of the fans can be a vital injection of energy to tired legs on the pitch when the clock is running down, the media team and the press have that similar feeling of loneliness when not immersed in a bustling crowd and rather in an echoey skeleton of a football stadium.

Waking up on matchday morning during the time of COVID-19 is the same as any: excited and optimistic for the day ahead, with the prospect of a winning performance and more points on the board lingering in the back of one’s mind… And when the team is on a good run, there is an extra spring in our step as we hit the road.

By the time of arrival, however, reality begins to rear its ugly head once more. Stadiums are deserted, vending stalls and bars are caged away in steel chains; nothing remains but an eerie silence, and then the music pouring from the tannoy is powerless in its attempt to fill the void as players warm up in front of abandoned plastic seats.

It is certainly both a fascinating and frustrating era in football’s long history. Come the end of 90 minutes, regardless of the result, it is almost guaranteed that at least one member of the media team will mutter the words “if only the fans were here”.

What is even more peculiar to imagine is that James Rowe, along with his many new arrivals who have since driven the club up the National League table and have lost just two in 16 outings, is yet to manage a single fixture in front of Blues supporters.

The pandemic has also challenged us as a media team to adapt. We have put together our very first live streaming service and, to the very best of our ability, we have looked to cover the club in as thorough and open way as possible, to keep the supporters close to the action without being physically here.

The end appears to be in sight, though, with the government announcing plans to begin reopening the country and its stadia before the season’s end. Should we be lucky enough, come May 22, we will have a sea of Spireites flooding through the turnstiles once more, ready to back James Rowe and his men.