REMEMBER the beginning of this year, when it seemed that we were heading into another lockdown?
In Scotland and Wales, use of the vaccine passport was expanded to almost all public events – and, as the Celtic fringes were a testing ground for the whole UK, the same restrictions would inevitably be imposed in England too.
This didn’t happen, so why the change of mind at Westminster? Recorded cases and deaths were rising, and the NHS was allegedly on its knees again. The ‘booster’ campaign, with quasi-religious imagery of recipients in a glowing halo, was in full swing.
Despite slick marketing, fewer people were coming for a third dose, and so the fear was ramped up. The paradox for the Government, though, was imploring the ‘vaccine hesitant’ to come forward while telling the double-jabbed that they were insufficiently protected. The ‘no jab, no job’ mandate for healthcare workers mandated two doses that by the Government’s admission were no longer effective.
Since mass administration of the Covid vaccine began in early 2021, the authorities and mainstream media persistently told us that all but a tiny minority were jabbed.
With constant coaxing and coercion, the boosted rate rose, but ministers were troubled by the decline in uptake from the first two doses. Furthermore, it was eventually revealed that the vaccinated proportion of society was exaggerated, presumably as a tactic to boost compliance and ostracise refuseniks.
In a concerted effort in early 2021, every newspaper and broadcaster featured polemics against the unvaccinated, with the likes of Sarah Vine, Andrew Neil, Carole Malone, Piers Morgan, Jeremy Vine and Ann McEvoy calling for their punishment.
The trailer for a BBC documentary Unvaccinated, presented by Hannah Fry, stated that eight per cent of adults were unjabbed, but as statistician Norman Fenton found, the true proportion was about a fifth.
Recent scrutiny of UK Health Security Agency data by the Daily Expose showed that almost 19million people have not received any doses. Among the vaccinated, the decline is remarkable: 44million took the first dose, 41million the second, and 34million the third. The latest bivalent booster has hardly filled the vaccination centres.
Returning to January this year, and in Nicola Sturgeon’s bleak midwinter, a humourless Hogmanay was followed by a sweeping vaccination requirement at football grounds.
The Scots were generally more willing to accept what their politicians told them to do, but there were reports of fake certificates and borrowed friends’ passports used at the turnstile. At Rangers and Celtic, 60,000 supporters enter the ground in an hour, so checking was probably cursory. However, a more principled resistance would have been boycott, and that’s what seemed to happen as the scheme extended in England.
My friend Rachel told me of her experiences as a Chelsea fan, which indicate that the club tried to make the ground look full when thousands of fans stayed away.
From the beginning of the 2021-2022 season, supporters aged over 11 could attend matches only with the NHS Covid Pass proof of vaccination or negative lateral flow test. Rachel didn’t renew her season ticket, after being compensated for missed matches in the previous season played behind closed doors.
On August 2, for a usually sold-out match against Tottenham, the popular Matthew Harding Stand behind the goal was unreserved. Some supporters in online chat complained that vaccine passports were not being checked and that masks weren’t being worn despite close proximity. Apparently checks were abandoned due to long queues, frayed tempers and stewards getting grief.
Rachel read social media posts from renewed season ticketholders and noticed how easy it was to purchase for friends and family to sit together (normally this is impossible). On August 14, before the visit of Crystal Palace, parts of the Matthew Harding Stand were closed, leaving only the areas within camera view populated.
In September, European Champions League matches against Malmo and Juventus were not sold out. According to fans, further sections of seating were fenced off, forcing many season ticketholders to move from their booked seats.
The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge was dull. Rachel watched a Chelsea home game on Sky Sports on December 16 and the swathes of empty seats could not be hidden from viewers. Symbolical of the exodus was when the Chelsea Pensioner pub was put up for sale – this normally being the busiest of all drinking dens on match day.
This anecdotal account suggests that clubs were struggling to entice supporters back after lockdown. And while some reluctance may have been anxiety about catching Covid-19, Rachel was in no doubt that ‘no jab, no match’ was so abhorred that even the most fervent fans refused to comply.
The English Premier League is a massive global phenomenon, with almost every ground filled to the rafters. The vast television audience around the world would have seen empty seats and wondered why. It would have shown that vaccine discipline was broken. The truth that a third of the population was unvaccinated would have been exposed. Credit for the Government abandoning the Covid Pass should go to football supporters, and this was a highly significant reversal of the vaccine passport biosecurity regime.