“London Bridge is down.” These are thought to be the code words used by officials to spread the news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death, first to the Prime Minister and members of the British government, then to other countries where she was the head of state or figurehead.
Thursday’s confirmation of the Queen’s passing at the age of 96 was both a shock to an infidel nation and an event that had been planned for years. Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary for a decade until 2017, was a former diplomat who was awarded a second knighthood in 2014, in part for organizing her succession.
Elements of ‘Operation London Bridge’, the master plan detailing how to send a country through a period of mourning and transition to a new monarch (now King Charles III), had previously leaked, giving us all an indication of what was to come. come. . Very little was left to chance, but one of the unknowns—until the moment really came—was how the formalities would fit into pre-existing events and lengthy engagements.
“At the sole discretion of individual organizations”
Sport occupies an important place within this gray area – especially football, given its status as a national sport. And so, when two footmen posted a message on the railing outside Buckingham Palace of the Queen’s death shortly after 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the immediate response was to stop, just as the country had come to a standstill due to the gravity of the moment. The evening horse racing games at Chelmsford and Southwell were cut off mid-map, while all races on Friday were also cancelled, as were two of the English Football League games: Burnley vs. Norwich City in the Championship and Tranmere Rovers against Stockport County in the Second Division.
Europa League matches at Manchester United (who lost to Real Sociedad) and West Ham United (who beat FCSB) were allowed to continue as the 8pm kick-off made them unsafe to stop at such a late stage, but that initial discussion usually led to to what would happen next. Sources have told ESPN that several governing bodies, including the English Football Association (FA), the Premier League and the EFL, began thinking about what to do with the weekend’s games before deciding against a sudden verdict.
It’s a disorienting time for everyone in the UK. A monarch who has been a constant for over 70 years, as a point of stability through decades of turbulence, regardless of your politics or broader view of royalty. And it was this feeling that led the authorities of the game not to make a hasty decision on Thursday night as the outpouring of emotions began. People began to gather outside Buckingham Palace, flowers were laid at Balmoral – the Queen’s residence in Scotland, where she died with her family around her – while all five major terrestrial television channels had either rolling news or pre-recorded programs covering her life. documented.
There was also the promise of government advice. A document titled “The demise of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: National Mourning Guidance” was circulated a few hours after her death. It addressed the issue of sports: “There is no obligation to cancel or postpone events and sports competitions, or close entertainment venues during the period of National Mourning. This is at the discretion of individual organizations.
“As a show of respect, organizations may consider canceling or postponing events or closing locations on the day of the state funeral. They are under no obligation to do so and it is at the sole discretion of individual organizations.
“If sports competitions or events are scheduled for the day of the state funeral, organizations may wish to adjust the timings of the event so as not to clash with the timing of the funeral service and associated processions. As a sign of respect and in accordance with the tone of national mourning, organizers may wish to observe a period of silence and/or play the national anthem at the start of events or sports matches, and players may wish to wear black armbands.”
The final decision was thus left to the associations. The Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) organized a call for all sports at 9:30 a.m. Friday to discuss options and answer questions where possible. The Premier League then gathered the boards and representatives of all 20 clubs at 11 a.m. to discuss their next move.
Queen Elizabeth II’s remarkable longevity sets historical precedent so far as to minimize its relevance, but when King George VI died on February 6, 1952, a full series of football league matches were played three days later. Similarly, matches were played in the wake of King George V’s death in January 1936. However, matches were halted when Princess Diana died in August 1997 and, in a different context, football resumed at the earliest opportunity after the outbreak of COVID-19, based in part on the moral boost that competitive sport would give to a nation enduring widespread pain. Football prides itself on uniting expressions of respect in difficult social moments and this is where an unfortunate opportunity presented itself.
In addition, as the Premier League meeting took place, confirmation came that the Rugby Union would resume, while news quickly spread that cricket and golf were expected to continue. Later, the rugby league publicly stated that it would go ahead. However, sources have told ESPN that the Premier League has opted not to let the games go ahead following a board decision that was subsequently backed by the clubs.
In typical meetings, the clubs take a vote, where 14 of the 20 teams had to pass a motion, but this situation was different. Sources say talks have taken place between the Premier League, the EFL and the Women’s Super League to coordinate their response after the DCMS meeting, which has led to the postponement of all games this weekend, including Monday night’s Premier League game between Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.
When do the games take place?
To take the emotion out of the situation, the football calendar has already been heavily condensed due to the unprecedented occurrence of a winter World Cup in November and December. Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte has already described the schedule as “crazy”, while others, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have expressed fears of player burnout given the sheer number of matches.
There is little play. A source suggested that if the Queen died on a Friday or Saturday, the decision would have been a formality, but this weekend falls in the midst of the first wave of shock at the announcement and the likely outpouring of grief at the funeral, which the date has yet to be confirmed, but it is speculated to be either Sunday, September 18, or Monday, September 19. Government guidelines are clearer around the funeral. “As a show of respect, organizations may consider canceling or postponing state funeral events or closing venues,” the document said.
If the funeral takes place on September 18, the sheer size of the police operation will jeopardize the fixtures scheduled for next Sunday. This will be Britain’s first state funeral since the death of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965, and people will travel to London from all corners of the world. The police operation will, in fact, start over the weekend regardless of the actual funeral date, and so the prospect of a second game week potentially being disrupted is clear.
Discussions will continue in the coming days on how to deal with this situation. More immediately, sources told ESPN that UEFA is in talks with relevant stakeholders about whether next week’s Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League matches involving English clubs should take place. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United are all in action, as are Scottish clubs Rangers, Celtic and Hearts.
But in the end, all that can wait. The Queen’s grandson, Prince William, is the president of the FA and she was the patroness of the organization herself. According to the governing bodies of football, the logistical difficulties are replaced by the desire to pause for a moment to recognize a milestone in a country’s history and the end of an era. There is always another match. There will never be Queen Elizabeth II again.