The idea of football tourism as a leisure pursuit depends rather obviously on two things. With football no longer a possibility, is tourism alone a legitimate substitute?
Of course it is under normal circumstances, although even then it might seem perverse in some cases. At one end of the scale, people flock to Venice in their millions without the city having had a half-way decent football club for decades. But at the other, the questionable lure of the sights is now compounded by the closure of many attractions and facilities.
Towns of Two Halves has always maintained that any town can be regarded as a tourist attraction if you approach it with the right attitude. That becomes a difficult position to maintain when towns are shutting down. You’ll have seen a lot of newspaper columnists lately pretending to have read La Peste by Albert Camus; Nevil Shute’s On the Beach also comes to mind, with the old boys in the Melbourne club wondering whether they have time to drink their way through the port collection in the cellar before the fallout cloud arrives.
It was possible on the 14 March to watch Halifax play Ebbsfleet in the National League and to visit the Calderdale Industrial Museum, Halifax Minster and the Square Chapel Arts Centre. A handful of days later, all were closed until further notice. Now public transport is beginning to wind down – by this time next week travel in general might be discouraged, which would finally knock any idea of tourism on the head.
When the crisis has passed – and China appears to have got on top of the coronavirus in about four months – both elements of football tourism will probably take much longer to recover. Many football clubs seem ill-equipped to cope with the routine demands of the season; a prolonged shutdown will sorely test their viability. The EFL has made a fund of £50m available for clubs in difficulties. It’s a tidy sum, but if all 72 clubs applied, it could pay their players’ wages… for a month. Some of the local museums, galleries, country houses and other establishments so beloved of Towns of Two Halves also exist only where tolerances are so fine that a feeler gauge is necessary.
They will need all the help they can get. It’s hard to imagine that lower league football clubs or local cultural enterprises will be high in the Government’s list of priorities. When football returns, revel in the chance to be a tourist again. Any day can be a festival, just as any town can be a tourist resort.