Adblocker over pay-per-view: The life of a COVID-era sports fan

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Charlie Wilbraham, Second Year Politics & International Relations

Along with the stadium experience, going to the pub to watch sport is a universally loved weekly sporting ritual. It is replicated by people around the world in bars, clubhouses, dive bars, and anywhere else with a big screen, a sports channel subscription and some form of alcohol being sold.

Between lockdowns, going into town along with a group of (six or fewer) mates to see a match was a rare sign of normality after months of either no sport or a sterile, technology driven experience. How then, are students coping with being forced back into lockdown and away from the sticky carpets and bad breath of a Saturday pub afternoon? The answer, as it has been for a long time with the ever-increasing cost of supporting a commercialised industry: streams.

Now, as stools have been swapped for sofas and pints for cans, the students of Bristol have turned to their old friends in the form of TotalSportek, FootyBite and CR7.net to provide a break to the monotony of a life spent indoors getting a degree through their webcams.

Lugging the TV into the living room, the scramble for the HDMI cable, or the games of cat and mouse in the removing of ads and suspicious invitations from strangers, these are all new rituals that have emerged. Thanks to them, we can make the most of what we have and spend time with our friends, even if that time is spent arguing over the tactical pros and cons of Guardiola’s cardigan.

Sport is a reminder of how things were, and soon will be again

When every sport being played on our screens is done so with their grunts and shouts echoing throughout empty arenas, the construction of these rituals provides an extra buzz and feeling that has been missing. Even when pubs briefly opened their doors, bans on shouting and chanting created a more relaxing drinking experience at the expense of the buzz of celebration and alcohol-inspired expressions of emotion.

As the playing fields move further away from us, the idea of sport and why it is so important to us both as a spectacle and pastime seems closer than ever. Walking back home from the shops in the evenings, windows are lit up with the greens of golf courses and football pitches whilst others display club scarves or Six Nations flags.

Stools have been swapped for sofas and pints for cans

Those who once scoffed at the tribalism of football, now sit glued to the Europa League goals show on a Thursday night, swearing as the referee disallows a goal for the Azerbaijani champions against a mid-table Spanish side. A once-mocked replica shirt is now smiled at by their mates, who can’t bring themselves to knock the enthusiasm of someone clinging to normalcy, however abnormal our times.

With the only legal sporting activities entailing lonely jogs and sweaty bedroom workouts, it is only natural that these events have become such an important release for many people as a reminder of how things were, and soon will be again.

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The housemate with the BT Sport subscription getting the comfy chair on a Champions League night, cooking pasta with a phone propped against the toaster so you can watch Jon Rahm’s water-skipping hole-in-one for the 50th time – things which would have been laughed at are now real moments of joy as the unpredictability and grandeur of sport gives us something reliable and simple.

Whilst we lament tongue-scalding cups of Bovril and red-faced bald men aggressively singing the national anthem, we must also gain an appreciation for what has been created in the absence of spectator sport. Our lives exist through our laptops and so it is no surprise that another aspect of our lives has become reliant on them, but through the gatherings of housemates huddling around a screen and talking rubbish about sport, something strangely beautiful has emerged in spite of all else.

Featured image: Charlie Wilbraham


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