Football Without Fans Is….Fine?

The Arsenal week is over and, as disappointing as it was to drop out of the League Cup, if we had to lose one of those two games then I was happier with it being that one. In truth, we should have won both games quite comfortably and I’m not convinced at all by the latest vogue to suggest that Mikel Arteta is some sort of managerial genius for what he’s done with the North London side. Had Sam Allardyce been appointed instead him we will probably have seen the same results and performances, but nobody would be heaping praise on the former Bolton man. The proof of the puddling will be in the eating, of course, so we’ll have to see how things pan out in the coming months. Yet the Reds could have won each of the games we’ve played against the Gunners since Arteta’s appointment by three or four goals and nobody would have been arguing the toss. In many ways, he’s benefitting from there being no fans in the ground because I don’t think they’d stand for it.

From Liverpool’s point of view, it will be disappointing for Jürgen Klopp to see the team crash out of another domestic cup competition early, but at the same time I don’t think he’ll mind not having to play an extra match during the crazily busy Christmas period. Yes, it is absolutely a shame that the squad players won’t have more chances to get game time and ask questions of the manager, but the nature of this campaign means that I think they’ll get plenty of chances in the Premier League and Champions League as the manager looks to bring in fresh legs. The former of those two competitions remains the most important one, with Klopp desperate to keep the players fighting for back-to-back titles to prove their brilliance. If they can couple it with victory in Europe then that will be even better and will truly put them up in the pantheon of great Liverpool sides. That they’re doing it without supporters there to witness it is a shame, but it is the be all and end all?

Even When Things Are Normal, Not Everyone Gets To Go

Before we go any further, let me say that I’m writing this piece as a season ticket holder who misses going to the game and seeing my mates every week. I’m also aware that football games with people in the ground are significantly better than ones in empty stadiums. What follows is not an attempt to argue that we should find a way to play in virtually empty grounds for the rest of time. The sooner it’s safe for people to return, the better it will be for everyone. Instead, it is a rejection of the notion that the games as they’re currently being played somehow count for less or are completely rubbish compared to ones in front of a baying crowd. From the point of view of those watching, I’m not sure there’s all that much to complain about. Week-in, week-out, as I and tens of thousands of others head to Anfield to watch the Reds, millions of people around the world have no choice but to watch the match play out on their televisions at home or in pubs and bars.

Of course it would be better for them if there was a crowd in the stands, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference to the viewing public. Personally, I rarely watch games that don’t involve Liverpool with the same level of concentration as the ones that do. Instead, I’ll be on my iPad, browsing Twitter or getting on with some work. There have been numerous times since supporters weren’t allowed into stadiums when I’ve heard the fake crowd noise in the background and forgotten that it wasn’t real. When I watch the Reds, meanwhile, I’m concentrating so much on the players and the game that the lack of a crowd doesn’t even enter my head. The experience of watching on the television under those circumstances is not dissimilar to what the tens of millions of Liverpool supporters who aren’t lucky enough to get tickets for matches have to put up with on a weekly basis. It’s hardly a reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Like It Or Not, It’s The New Normal

When the Champions League draw was made yesterday, countless Liverpool supporters took to social media to express their disappointment at us being drawn against Ajax at a time when we couldn’t go to Amsterdam to enjoy the spoils of such a party city. It’s a take that I very much understand, even though I have never been fortunate enough to go to a European away match. I’m quite sure that the manager and the players are just as keen as everyone else for football to return to normal; I don’t think that the comeback against Barcelona happens in an empty Anfield, after all. Yet the simple truth is that this is the new normal. As someone with underlying health conditions that mean that I would probably suffer severely if I were to get Covid-19, I can very much understand why there is a reluctance to let people back into sporting venues in large numbers, even if I think it’s a massive shame that that’s the case. Sadly, not everyone can be trusted to act responsibly.

Yes, there is plenty of room in a football stadium for people to be spaced out, but what happens at half-time when those thousands of people all want to get a drink or use the toilet? What about after the match, when gathering on the streets outside the grounds will be hard to police? I want someone to think through all of these scenarios and come up with a solution, but I don’t think it’s sensible to just pretend that it’s not a thing. The impact of the Coronavirus means that we all need to adjust our lives for the time being or else loved ones will be lost up and down the country. If playing matches without supporters in the ground is the only way to keep football going during these difficult times then it’s a sacrifice we’ll all have to make. For the good of the sport we all very much hope that people can get into stadiums as soon as possible, especially in the lower leagues, but if the top-flight has to continue without them then it’s a new normal we all have to get on board with.

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