The game Portsmouth's Barry Harris misses terribly, yet may never be same for him again

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Normally, he’d be spending his time undertaking his regular duties at the training ground and looking forward to his Saturday afternoon Pompey fix.

Instead, Blues stalwart and kit assistant Barry Harris will look to extend a staycation with his partner into the weekend, following yesterday’s inevitable cancellation of the Blues’ test match with Wigan.

‘I’m missing it,’ said the man whose association with the football club which has dominated his life stretches for 68 years. ‘I’m really missing it.

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‘I miss being involved at Fratton Park, having a laugh in the dressing room and people shouting at me.

‘I miss it all something terrible, but you have to keep going and do what you need to do to get through it. I can’t wait for it to come back how we all know it.’

Harris can’t wait to get back but we now know that won’t be happening anytime soon, after the news we’ve been bracing ourselves for duly arrived on Tuesday morning.

The anticipated return of fans to sporting venues next month has now been ‘paused’ amid the new coronavirus rules and second wave of the disease.

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It’s health concerns which were keeping Harris away, but he and others like him across the country (okay, we know there’s no one else like him) now know they likely face a six-month wait to return to games. Possibly at the earliest.

Pompey stalwart Barry Harris. Photo by Daniel Chesterton/phcimages.comPompey stalwart Barry Harris. Photo by Daniel Chesterton/
Pompey stalwart Barry Harris. Photo by Daniel Chesterton/

If you haven’t noticed, the news also arrives days after a media charge from EFL clubs to underline the apocalyptic scenario if supporters don’t return to their stadia.

It may have been orchestrated, but that doesn’t devalue the truth of the message: football clubs are going to die unless they replace the monstrous holes in their balance sheet caused by Covid-19.

The debate over whether the decision taken by the government over live sport, and football in particular, is the right one belongs on a forum with the correct scientific knowledge; that’s certainly not this one.

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What can be explored, however, is how this week’s news will be the final Covid winds to bring the EFL house of cards toppling down without government support.

Quite simply without that backing, the continuing loss of matchday revenue from football staying behind closed doors is going to see the apocalyptic prophecies realised.

EFL chief executive, David Baldwin, last week estimated its members’ losses through the pandemic will reach £250m by the end of the season without supporters present.

His Premier League counterpart Richard Masters puts the figure at £700m for this campaign alone, taking the total figure with their losses to date way, way beyond the £1bn mark.

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Pompey’s have repeatedly stressed they have been losing £700,000 per month through the pandemic, with matchday revenue accounting for £7.44m of their £11.5m turnover in their most recently available accounts.

‘The EFL know the disastrous state of football finance at this moment of time given Covid,’ CEO Mark Catlin told The News last week. ‘They’ve urged clubs to get on the front foot and try to get the message out of the damaging effect clubs folding could have on the wider community.’

Unlike the Premier League, it’s the funds generated on game day and not TV money which is the lifeblood of EFL members.

The financial black hole will now deepen for them as the furlough scheme comes to a close at the end of next month, while next year’s solidarity payments from the league have already been advanced.

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That was always viewed as the can being kicked down the road, but that route has now arrived at the cliff edge and clubs are staring down into the coronavirus abyss.

The sight of football without fans present is an emotive one, with some asking whether it really represents the game we love at all?

But the realistic and pressing question now is how can football continue in its current shape? The answer, not very long.

Noise of support from the powers that be is encouraging, but we await details in a period where there's now no time for waiting.

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Down in the National League, Dover Athletic have stated they have funds to continue operating for a ‘week to two weeks’ without supporters at games. Their league now looks unlikely to start after Tuesday’s government announcement.

We all know what Pompey mean to Harris, and the game to the dyed-in-the-wool folk like him who are the lifeblood of the sport; people we now clearly see play such a role in making it what it is.

The coming days are more revealingly set to show what football means to the people who run the country, how they value it as revenue driver for the economy and, crucially, its importance to our communities.

‘I just hope it comes back,’ said Harris, after missing his first opening-day league match for 66 years earlier this month. ‘I just hope everyone is able to get through it, move forward and get stronger again - and hopefully no one’s forgotten me.’

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Forgetting you is unlikely, Barry. In fact, it’s a rare certainty in a game’s future so sadly shrouded in unprecedented doubt.A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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