As 2020 ends with despair at Grimsby Town Football Club, one is forced to look back, seeking the moment where it all began to go wrong. In examining the last twelve months, a common story emerges, intertwined in football, politics, and life. The loss of control. 

Illuminated under the floodlights, the words of thousands of Grimsby Town fans signing ‘All Town are We’, echoed around Mansfield. It was a moment of great hope and unity, symbolising the togetherness that football clubs create. After a decade of disappointment, this was the beginning of a new chapter. After the game, I wrote ‘The Holloway Journey begins’. Two months later on the 7th of March, I was celebrating victory over our rivals Scunthorpe United. On each occasion, the same feelings were present: hope and excitement for the future, and a feeling of togetherness.

Yet very quickly things began to change. Within three days of beating Scunthorpe, I was in hospital. On being discharged nine days later, schools were closed, and lockdown was to follow. Uniting these two moments, was a total lack of control.

That lack of control has dominated our lives since.

A total lack of control

Between March and July, I was no longer in control of my health. In hospital, it was the nurses and doctors. At home, it was drugs and the passage of time. Each day was dominated by questions such as ‘has fluid now left the lungs’, ‘has the blood clot reduced in size’, ‘has the liver recovered’? On leaving the John Radcliffe, I was told ‘six weeks’ until recovery. It became four months until the blood clot had begun to reduce, after growing from 10 to 20cm by early June. I was not in control. It was a matter of waiting. Dictated by a time scale largely unknown.

At the heart of this period was a paradox. I was trying to apply intrinsically human methods of control, onto an injury that neither recognised nor respected such tools. The human application of time became utterly meaningless. Similarly, this has been the story concerning Covid-19. The Government has been embarrassed by attempting to set over ambitious deadlines or targets, whilst we have all set boundaries – either Summer or Christmas – as posts to aim for, when we tell ourselves all will be better.

Yet that has not happened. And as a result, with much of the country facing Tier 4, many feel a total lack of control. Despite mobilising the machinery of the British State, social distancing, hygiene measures, and several national lockdowns, the virus continues to determine our lives. The new mutant strain only the latest reflection of this.

Making the matter worse has been our distance from the battlefield. Most of us cannot see what is taking place in hospital. We were forced each day to await further instructions on what we could do from the 5pm Press Conference. The only certainty in a world brought to an uncertain halt, was the now infamous phrase ‘next side please’. An invisible enemy, coupled with our hiding away, meant frustration and hopelessness mounted.

The same feeling exists concerning Grimsby Town. Away from Blundell Park, I cannot shout at the performance on the pitch, we cannot make our feelings heard to the manager or owners. Instead, thousands have watched that hope from earlier in the year dissipate and turn into despair and anger. Being separated from the action, has only made it worse.

Last week, the emblem of that early hope – Ian Holloway – resigned from the football club. Disappointment continues.

Abdication of responsibility

Meanwhile, from this lack of control we abdicated the role of decision making to authorities higher than ourselves. When the Government provided guidance concerning Christmas, we grew angry when they then recommended against following it. Chris Whitty remarked ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to’.

This anger reflected a remarkable truth of the last year. As beings who have lost all control over our lives, we have completely abdicated decision making to the Government. We expect them to tell us what to do, rather than set guidelines within which we can make our own decisions.

Another similarity connecting Grimsby Town’s season, and the fate of the UK this last decade has been an abdication of responsibility. Many voters have felt their lives spin out of control, in the face of immigration that has transformed their high streets, and global economic forces that have allowed mass deindustrialisation to run ahead at an alarming speed. Take Back Control meant more than legal sovereignty, but control also over family, communities, and in many ways feeling at home again within their local town.

Politicians have allowed such feelings to grow for they claimed too they had no control. One of the difficulties the Remain campaign faced in the Referendum, was that for years their own side had blamed the EU for policy failures made here in the UK.

Blame the other

This blaming of the other – bigger than ourselves – was pleasing to voters’ ears. Watching the UK decline from its position of strength decades previous, a story of decline caused by the ‘other’ (neither wholly true nor false) was comforting to the national psyche. The same was true when Ian Holloway blamed the EFL and Premier League for our failings at the start of the season. For fans not exactly positive of such authorities anyway, this was easy to listen to. In fact, I fell for it. His rhetoric obscured the failures of not coming back to training early enough, or the failure to sign decent players. This was not the fault of the EFL, but Holloway himself.

Such abdication of control and responsibility, will not be able to continue into 2021. In a lesson to politicians returning to a sovereign Westminster, once it became clear such mistakes were Holloway’s, then his future was limited. Now fans are mounting an enormous effort to reclaim control of our club, by campaigning for John Fenty to resign too – a Chairman that has only pulled the Mariners to greater depths in recent years.

In 2021 the public will begin a similar process to reclaim back control of their lives. There will become a point, where enough have been vaccinated to ensure hospitalisations reduce dramatically – perhaps as early as Spring. At this moment, the Government will relax the rules and most likely issue new guidance (encouraging hand washing, wearing of masks, and social distancing in certain places), whilst also allowing us by law, to do the things we love once again. This will require us to make decisions we have abdicated to our government since March. This will require us to consciously decide what is safe or not.

Guidance replaces orders

There was a moment in early September when the doctors changed their advice. Instead of commanding me not to drink, they now advised me to drink ‘moderately’. Instantly I had to decide what ‘moderately’ meant. It was now up to me to decide what was safe within their guidance. I was beginning to gain back some control. On drinking the first pint, I was worried instant pain would follow. But no, thankfully it did not. And thus over the next few months, I advanced the guidance to levels, admittedly, that I think doctors would find hard to judge ‘moderate’.

Some politicians have speculated whether such abdication of decision making, will mean as a nation we turn into docile bodies – after our release clinging to the strictest Government guidance. I don’t share such worries. What really changed in September was my health. Although of course this correlated with a change in the guidance, I felt in myself it was now safe to drink again. Since this point, fewer and fewer decisions are made with the doctor’s guidance in mind. The same will occur to us all come Easter. Our current docility and lack of control is because we accept the dangers of this virus. Once those dangers subside, our desire to go back to the heady days of individual control will be strong. Once it’s safe, I am certain thousands of fans will be ready to reclaim a sense of control over their beloved football club. That sense of community and hope felt back at the start of the year, is a pull no one can resist forever.

In truth, 2020 has revealed a nation simply too fat, and unfit. We ourselves were too weak to tackle a pandemic, as were our institutions. Both Government and people were not healthy. As the state takes back control from Brussels, we will also need to take control of our lives back from the state, as we decide when it is safe to venture out again. Both the Government and us – the voters – need to become more responsible over our lives. In 2021, we will have few excuses to hide behind.