“London Bridge is down.” These are believed 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 and then to other countries where she was a head of state or figurehead .
Thursday’s confirmation of the Queen’s death at the age of 96 came as both a shock to an unbelieving 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 knighted for a second time in 2014, partly for organizing her succession.
Elements of “Operation London Bridge,” the master plan detailing the mechanics of guiding a country through a period of mourning and transition to a new monarch (now King Charles III), had previously leaked, giving us all a clue as to what would come . Very little was left to chance, but among the unknowns – until the moment actually came – was how the formalities would fit into pre-existing events and long-standing commitments.
“Fully at the discretion of the individual organizations”
Sport occupies a significant place within this gray area – especially football, as it is the national sport. When two lackeys announced the Queen’s death on the railings of Buckingham Palace just after 6.30pm on Thursday, the immediate reaction was to stop just as the country had come to a standstill given the gravity of the moment. Evening horse races at Chelmsford and Southwell were canceled halfway through the map, while all Friday races were canceled as were two of the day’s English Football League games – Burnley v Norwich City in the Championship and Tranmere Rovers v Stockport County in the second tier.
Europa League games at Manchester United (who lost to Real Sociedad) and West Ham United (who beat FCSB) were allowed to go ahead as their 8pm kick-offs didn’t make them safely abandoned at such a late time, but fueled that initial discussion usually moving on to what would happen next. Sources have told ESPN that various governing bodies including the English Football Association (FA), Premier League and EFL were considering what to do with the weekend’s games before deciding against a sudden ruling.
It’s a confusing time for everyone in the UK. A monarch that has been a constant for more than 70 years, as a point of stability through decades of turmoil, whatever your politics or broader view of royalty. And it was that sentiment that prompted those in charge of the game not to make a rushed decision on Thursday night when the outburst 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 networks broadcast either live news or pre-recorded programs telling her documented lives.
There was also the promise of government advice. A document entitled “The Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: National Guidance on Bereavement” was circulated a few hours after her death. It addressed the issue of sport: “There is no obligation to cancel or postpone events and sporting events or to close entertainment venues during the memorial period. This is at the discretion of each organization.
“As a mark of respect, organizations may wish to consider canceling or postponing events or closing venues on the day of the state funeral. You are not required to do so and this is entirely at the discretion of each organization.
“If sporting events or events are planned for the day of the state funeral, organizations may wish to adjust event times so that they do not conflict with the times of the funeral service and associated processions. As a mark of respect and in keeping 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 sporting events, and players may wish to wear black armbands.
The final decision was therefore left to the associations. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) arranged a call for all sports at 9:30am on Friday to discuss options and answer questions where possible. The Premier League then assembled its board and representatives from all 20 clubs at 11am to discuss their next move.
Queen Elizabeth II’s remarkable longevity makes historical precedent so remote as to minimize its relevance, but when King George VI. died on February 6, 1952, there was a whole series of football league games three days later. Similarly, matches were played after the death of King George V in January 1936. However, matches were suspended when Princess Diana died in August 1997 and, in a different context, football resumed at the first opportunity following the outbreak of COVID-19. based in part on the morale boost that competitive sport would bring to a nation enduring widespread suffering. Football prides itself on showing respect in difficult social moments and here an unfortunate opportunity had arisen.
Also, while the Premier League meeting was taking place, it was confirmed that rugby union would resume, while word quickly spread that cricket and golf were likely to continue. Rugby league later stated publicly that it would continue. However, sources have told ESPN that the Premier League have decided not to continue their games following a board decision then supported by clubs.
At typical gatherings, clubs vote, requiring 14 of the 20 teams to submit a motion, but this situation was different. Sources say talks were taking place between the Premier League, EFL and Women’s Super League to coordinate their response after the DCMS meeting, resulting in the postponement of all this weekend’s games, including Monday night’s Premier League game between Leeds United and Nottingham Forest.
When are the games held?
Aside from the emotions of the situation, the football calendar is already heavily condensed due to the unprecedented occurrence of a Winter World Cup this November and December. Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte has already called the schedule “insane”, while others, including Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, have expressed fears of player burnout given the sheer volume of games.
There is precious little sag. A source suggested that had the Queen died on a Friday or Saturday the decision would have been a formality, but this weekend, amid the initial wave of shock at the announcement and the likely wave of mourning at the funeral, does not come for its date to be confirmed, but speculation is that it’s either Sunday 18th September or Monday 19th September. The governance regarding the funeral is clearer. “As a mark of respect, organizations may wish to consider canceling or postponing events or closing venues on the day of the state funeral,” the document reads.
If the funeral takes place on September 18, the sheer scale of the police operation will jeopardize facilities 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 begin at the weekend regardless of the actual date of the funeral, so the prospect of a possible disruption to a second week of play is clear.
Discussions on how to deal with this situation will continue in the coming days. More directly, sources have told ESPN that UEFA is in talks with relevant stakeholders over whether to host next week’s Champions League, Europa League and Europa Conference League matches involving English clubs. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, West Ham and Manchester United will all be in action, as will Scottish clubs Rangers, Celtic and Hearts.
But in the end, all of this can wait a moment. The Queen’s grandson, Prince William, is President of the FA and she was a patron of the organization herself. According to football governing bodies, the logistical difficulties are being eclipsed by a desire to pause to acknowledge a milestone in a nation’s history and the end of an era. There will always be another match. There will never be another Queen Elizabeth II.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/english-premier-league/story/4742331/how-premier-leagueenglish-football-came-to-a-stop-as-a-nation-mourned-the-death-of-queen-elizabeth-ii How Premier League, English football came to a stop as a nation mourned the death of Queen Elizabeth II