Soccer Aid was always going to be a little different this year. COVID-19 saw to that. But it wasn’t the virus that confused fans on Sunday night – it was the event’s founder Robbie Williams appearing as a hologram during the live broadcast.
Travel restrictions prevented the singer being there in person, so he chatted with presenter Dermot O’Leary via video link instead. So far, so good. But it was the performance of his new single Strange Days with The Struts that left many viewers baffled – a hologram was used to give the appearance that he was on stage with the rest of the band.
Watchers couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Some fans reckoned the 46-year-old singer looked more like Gary Barlow than himself, while others claimed he appeared to be an 8ft-tall giant.
There is quite a height difference between Williams and Struts frontman Luke Spiller in real life, with Robbie coming in at just over 6ft, while Luke is closer to 5ft 7in. This may have caused some of the visual problems, but whatever the cause, it was a source of hilarity for those watching on the night.
While chatting with O’Leary, Williams explained his absence: "This year’s been one of the weirdest years on record. For months I was thinking to myself, 'I've got Soccer Aid, at least I've got Soccer Aid.”
"But I went on holiday and we got put on a travel ban, so I can't be there, but it's given me the moment to experience it how everybody else experiences it."
Only last week, Williams revealed to Radio 2 DJ Steve Wright that he had moved his family to Switzerland to avoid COVID-19. But then the UK government added the country to its quarantine list.
Thankfully, that didn’t stop many of last year’s players turning out.
Olly Murs, Lee Mack and Joe Wicks all returned to the field, with new faces including Iain Stirling, Joel Dommett and David James also in attendance. The match itself was a tight one, with the Rest of the World finally edging it on penalties.
In a video posted to his Instagram, Williams said the stars would be playing for Generation COVID, asking people to donate and reminding them that as a Unicef UK Ambassador he had seen first-hand the impact of people’s support.
The match usually takes place in June, but was postponed in March due to safety issues around the pandemic.
Soccer Aid for Unicef is accepting donations until 6 October.