2020 ended with despair at the Grimsby Town Football Club. Where did it all go wrong? In examining the last twelve months, a common story emerges, intertwined in football, politics and life: the loss of control. 

The loss of control

Illuminated under the floodlights, the words of thousands of Grimsby Town fans singing ‘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.

But things quickly changed. Within three days of beating Scunthorpe, I was hospitalized. Nine days later when I was discharged, schools were closed and the nationwide lockdown followed. Uniting these two moments was a total lack of control.

That lack of control has dominated our lives since.

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 for the blood clot to begin reducing, having grown from 10 to 20cm by early June. I was not in control. It was a matter of waiting. Dictated by a timescale largely unknown.

At the heart of this period was a paradox. I was trying to apply an intrinsically human method of control to an injury that neither recognised nor respected this method. The human application of time became utterly meaningless. Similarly, this has been the story with Covid-19. The government has been embarrassed by attempting to set futile deadlines and targets. We for our part, have been doing much the same. ‘By summer or Christmas at the latest, we’ll be free of this pandemic’, we’ve reassured ourselves.

Yet that has not happened. The country is back into lockdown. Despite mobilising the machinery of the British state, social distancing, hygiene measures, and two national lockdowns, the virus continues to determine our lives. The new mutant strain is but a reflection of its grip.

Spectators of the ‘war’

Making the matter worse has been our distance from the battlefield. Most of us cannot see what is taking place in hospitals across the country. Each day we waited for the 5 p.m. press conference for further instructions on what we could and couldn’t do. 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 that 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.

Abdicating responsibility

Meanwhile, following this loss 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 it did a U-turn. Chris Whitty remarked: ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you have to’ — so much for that choice being on the table …

But our anger reveals an important truth. Having lost control over our lives, we have also completely surrendered 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.

Many voters have felt their lives spin out of control during this last decade. Immigration has transformed the high streets, and global economic forces have allowed mass deindustrialisation to run ahead at an alarming speed, costing jobs and livelihoods. Take Back Control meant more than legal sovereignty. It was about restoring control over the family, communities, and feeling at home again within one’s town.

Blame them, not me …

This blaming of the other — bigger than ourselves — was pleasing to voters’ ears. Watching the UK decline from its former ‘glory days’, made accusing the ‘other’ 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 amiable towards such authorities anyway, this was music to their ears. In fact, I fell for it too. 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 cannot continue in 2021. In a lesson to politicians returning to   Westminster, once it became clear the mistakes were Holloway’s, 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.

Taking note, the public must begin a similar process and reclaim control of their lives. A moment will come when enough have been vaccinated to ensure hospitalisations reduce dramatically — perhaps as early as spring, but let’s avoid basing action on predictions. We should act now, by accepting present constraints and acting responsibly within them.

Setting our own guidelines

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 regain some control. On drinking my first pint in months, I worried that pain would follow. But no, thankfully it did not. And so over the next few months, I advanced the guidance to levels, admittedly, that I think doctors would find hard to judge as ‘moderate’.

Some politicians have speculated whether such abdication of decision-making will mean that as a nation we’ll eventually become docile — clinging to the guidelines even after they’re lifted. I don’t share such worries. What really changed in September was my health. Although of course this correlated with a change in the doctor’s guidance, I also felt within myself that it was now safe to drink again. Since that point, fewer and fewer decisions have been made with the doctor’s advice in mind. I believe the same will inevitably happen to the rest of us when it comes to finding our way out of this pandemic.

2020 exposed a fat and ailing nation that was too weak to tackle a pandemic. Both government and people were unhealthy. As the state takes back control from Brussels, we in turn need to take back control of our lives from the state. No excuses.

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