Should we pump up the volume to avoid sporting Chinese water torture?

ONE of the most striking aspects of football’s return to action has been the lack of crowd noise and general atmosphere.
Noisy: England's Jofra Archer.Noisy: England's Jofra Archer.
Noisy: England's Jofra Archer.

The matches in the German Bundesliga have been so bereft that you have been able to hear a pin drop in the deserted grounds.

Things have been so lacking in South Korea, indeed, that in an effort to create the illusion of “real” spectators, FC Seoul purchased 30 “premium mannequins” and dotted them around the stands.

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It was a nice idea until someone pointed out that the mannequins were, in actual fact, sex dolls, resulting in a £67,000 fine from the league and the somewhat clumsily worded admonishment that FC Seoul officials should really have recognised what the dolls were for by using their common sense and “experience”.

Fans build a snake from plastic glasses.Empty: 
Fans build a snake from plastic glasses.
Empty: Fans build a snake from plastic glasses.

Now, as plans accelerate for cricket’s return in the age of Covid-19 with a behind-closed-doors Test series between England and the West Indies in early July, there have been calls for crowd noise to be played to compensate for the absence of fans.

Leading those calls has been England fast bowler Jofra Archer, who said: “We play music at cricket. Why can’t we play some crowd simulation? We can play the clapping, play the oohs and aahs and just try to make it as realistic as possible.”

Instinctively, I am tempted to poo poo the idea – if only for the fact that it might give the absurd Barmy Army even more reason for its self-justification.

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Better, perhaps, to take a leaf out of FC Seoul’s book and to distribute a few dolls around the Ageas Bowl and Old Trafford, the bio-secure venues in which the Tests will be played.

Losing streak: A streaker runs on the field during the second day of the first Test  between Sri Lanka and England in Galle.Losing streak: A streaker runs on the field during the second day of the first Test  between Sri Lanka and England in Galle.
Losing streak: A streaker runs on the field during the second day of the first Test between Sri Lanka and England in Galle.

Why, the temptresses could be draped in flags emblazoned with such uplifting messages as “We love The Hundred”, “The County Championship sucks” and “The Yorkshire Post cricket correspondent is a sad stick-in-the-mud”.

But I digress.

On second thoughts, perhaps Archer’s idea is not as bad as it sounds, for what are we to be left with otherwise?

Endless gibberish, no doubt, emerging from the mouths of the players themselves as they parrot such things as “Great areas, Broady” and “Keep it there, Jimmy lad, keep it there” on an endless loop for six or seven hours.

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Can you imagine such poppycock reverberating around the empty stands and into our television sets all day without so much as a Barmy Army trumpet to drown out the noise?

It would be the cricketing equivalent of Chinese water torture – an endless drip, drip, drip of inanities that would slowly but surely send you round the twist.

All of which puts me in mind of the time, a few years back, when I covered a Championship fixture between Yorkshire and Middlesex at Headingley.

For a change of scene and a different vantage point, I wandered over from the press box to the old Football Stand and took my place among the assembled premium mannequins to watch a few overs.

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So cretinous and ceaseless was the Middlesex “chat”, I distinctly remember being grateful for – and soothed by – the sound of a car alarm going off somewhere on the nearby Kirkstall Lane.

When the alarm stopped after a while, I was almost tempted to walk out of the ground, try and track down the car myself and break into it to set the alarm off again; indeed, anything would have been preferable to listening to the fielders droning on.

But if “noise” is to be played at matches behind closed doors, what sort of noise and when?

It would be pretty crass, after all, if great cheers suddenly went up over the PA when one of the visiting batsmen lost his wicket or got hit on the head by an Archer bouncer.

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Ditto if groans suddenly filled the air when one of England’s players had his poles disturbed or after he had pulled a long hop down mid-wicket’s throat.

Perhaps some “blue-sky thinking”, as they say, is needed.

What about periodic bursts of someone very serious-sounding intoning the maxim ‘Stay Alert. Control The Virus. Save Lives’ after the fall of each wicket?

Or how about someone with an American accent, say, extolling the virtues of hydroxychloroquine and disinfectant after every six or four?

The possibilities are endless when you think about them over a refreshing glass of Dettol and an anti-malaria tablet.

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Perhaps, in an extra attempt to make it seem like a “real” Test match, the authorities could project historic images of streakers running across the outfield and of beer snakes being built in the stands by half-cut halfwits.

On the other hand, it’s probably best not to give those running our game any more ideas.

One thing is for certain: anyone quarantined for weeks on end at a bio-secure Ageas Bowl has my sympathy and is sure to need all the levity they can get.

Indeed, a long stretch in Strangeways might be preferable to one in Hedge End, Southampton, home of Hampshire’s slick but ultimately soulless headquarters.

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