That's, of course, in part because the mind raises the much more pressing concern about the rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic; in part, it's because, closed and scared, few would have assumed that those summer landmarks would happen anyway. The shock of every new day, like old age, pounds the senses so that it even seems to distort time. Every day lasts a week, more. The day after Wimbledon was canceled, the news felt like ancient history.
But the lack of sentiment is also rooted in the nature of standalone sporting events. Golf, tennis and motorsport all have important, dedicated followers for whom these are the highlights of the year, and for a large part of the audience, there are as many cultural venues – like Glastonbury, like Edinburgh – as sporting. For most, these events are not live, but remotely, from the comfort of a living room and are only concerned with the moment.
The disappearance of those summer milestones in contrast to the disruption of football is instructive because of the role they play in British national consciousness. For many, football is part of the background noise of everyday life. It is not something to enjoy, to look forward to. In normal times it is just there.
In Great Britain, football does not set the rhythm of one season but of the week: Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the spring are Champions League evenings; there is excitement when the clock strikes three o'clock on Saturday, even when your team is not playing; Monday actually starts at 6:30 PM on a Sunday, when the last game of the weekend ends.
Football is sport as a soap and friend, as identity and addiction, and its absence is tangible: something that was there is not here. Not only in numbers – during 40 weeks of the year, millions of people show up in person to watch football of different quality – but in terms of commitment. The absence of Wimbledon and the Open is currently hypothetical.
The season was suspended indefinitely on March 13; the leagues and clubs remain determined to finish it at some point, but when that will be remains completely unclear. Of course it is different to lose something that is going on and to lose something that has yet to start, but our interaction with football is different from our interaction with Wimbledon, for example.
That will change. Perhaps we will feel it immediately, not fulfilled in yawning days; maybe it will be a little later, when we realize that something has been missed. That's the truest feature of the British summer, no matter how long it takes, how long it lasts: you notice it most when it's not there at all.