The Coronavirus pandemic has brought up many questions, indeed more questions than answers as the world tries to adapt to life with the pandemic. It is sadly a pandemic they may dissipate somewhat but could well never go away. Everything seems to have changed and that of course has affected the world of football.
There are no fans allowed in the major European leagues. So much has changed so fast because of the spread of the virus. Let’s go back to the summer when UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was adamant that fans would be attending the Champions League final. He could not visualise that no fans would be able to witness the match live, even though domestic football had already been told that fans could not attend games. The Champions League final without fans, it was simply unthinkable. Even the knock out games seemed a stretch. The best teams, the best players, the sponsors, the spectacle all this going on, but no crowd atmosphere, surely the death of football was around the corner?
True the death of football is going over the top, but surely the game was going to miss something? And yet has it? One of the first major leagues to kick off again in Europe was the Bundesliga, did no fans really effect the outcomes of the games? True home wins dipped from 46% to 18% but that was only in the first few weeks. After that Bayern Munich played some incredible attacking football just like they would have with fans, and won the league in incredible style.
And the other leagues started up and the teams did what they do, they played. There were many incidents off the ball, yellow cards, sending offs, attacks, corners and goals. Perhaps the first few games were slow to start with especially in the Premier League when most of the early games goals were coming in the 2nd half of play. But still, the players just got on with it. There was no atmosphere in the stands but that didn’t stop the intensity on the pitch.
In the Champions League the quality of football was the same as a season with fans.There was the beauty in how Bayern played such incredible attacking football against Barcelona. The fans did not influence a game that ended with Bayern scoring 8 goals. There was also the thrills, PSG made it to the final, (their first one) but the French champions were going out at the quarter final stage after they were trailing Atalanta 1-0 on the 90th minute. They then did an infamous Manchester United comeback from the 1999 final and found not one but two goals in injury time to break Italian hearts.
One could see this in reverse of course. Look at West Ham in the Premier League, who looked like a different team with no fans especially at home. It felt as though the shackles and pressure from the fans was all too bearing on David Moyes side who before the season was paused in March looked like one of the favourite clubs to be relegated. But without the added pressure of critical fans, they played good football and easily stayed up. Of course no one at the club has admitted that it could be a key reason, but it is worth thinking about.
With television companies providing noise crowd and the cameras clearly angled at a certain position, as an armchair fan the fans at the games simply were not missed. And even though this wasn’t an experiment and was indeed needed, the result one has to wonder, is that perhaps fans are not needed to enhance a game of football.
At the same time revenue is of course lost, though for the most elite teams the bulk of the money comes through television. The lower league clubs would obviously fold and dissolve without the fans and of course especially for the smaller teams there is a sense of community when supporting your local team. In that case and even in the case of a fan attending a Manchester City game or Real Madrid one, it comes down to watching a live match, like a live concert, it is socially entertaining, and the game can be a fun way of relaxing and having a story to tell.
Still that doesn’t take away from what we have witnessed over the past few months, sure the biggest games ignite a special atmosphere, who could imagine Liverpool’s Kop stand empty during a classic European night of football? It simply isn’t the same. At the same time the players are professional and perhaps we have learned that when it comes down to winning games, fans make little to no difference, if in attendance or watching from home.