THE German Bundesliga returned to action last weekend, the first of the major European leagues to resume following the suspensions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. The games were played behind closed doors with fans prevented from attending as part of restrictions that remain in place across most of the world.
In Germany they call such games “ghost games” and there’s no question that the atmosphere was eerie and surreal. Football without fans is a rather diminished and sorry spectacle.
Watching Borussia Dortmund play without the backdrop of their famous ‘Yellow Wall’ of supporters behind the goal was all a bit strange.
It’s not clear when fans will be allowed back into football stadiums in Germany and elsewhere. Some reports have suggested that we could have to endure ghost games for quite a while longer. I sincerely hope not and the consequences for many smaller clubs will be dire if fans don’t return relatively quickly.
It’s more than a little mystifying why in many countries people are once again able to pack closely together on public transport but are denied permission to sit in the open air of a football stadium.
Great though it is to have football back, we shouldn’t accept the current situation as any sort of ‘new normal.’ Clubs could and should press the case harder for their fans to return.
It’s understandable that they haven’t so far since they are just so desperate to play again in almost any circumstances. Whenever next season starts in Europe, fans should be there at the games; many of whom are right now renewing their season tickets and hoping to be able to use them.
It’s not just in the stands that things are different; there have been a few changes on the pitch too. Special temporary dispensation has been given to allow five substitutes per team instead of the usual three. It’s a measure intended to reduce the risk of injury and fatigue but seems unnecessary.
Players have just had the longest break of their careers and the fixtures are not so compressed – for the moment at least – that they will be subject to significant additional physical strain.
Then we get to the truly bizarre stuff. Players are discouraged from celebrating goals together, with hugging particularly frowned upon.
So wait a minute, it’s OK to play 90 minutes of a full contact sport but giving a teammate a celebratory hug after scoring is unduly risky?
The arbitrary nature of many of these protocols makes no sense. In this regard, football is subject to much of the same confused decision making as the rest of society in these strange times.
It’s part of the reason that some Premier League players are expressing concern at the prospect of the season restarting soon.
They surely wonder why they must maintain social distancing as they return to training, while preparing to play full contact games in just a few weeks.
It’s not impossible that a few might even refuse to take the field when English football kicks off again. I will still be surprised though if any actually go that far. The chances are even less likely if the Bundesliga proceeds safely and straightforwardly for the next several weeks.
A return to normal is going to take some time but at least we’re now making progress towards it.
Football is back and that is cause for celebration. But watching those social distancing goal celebrations makes me feel that we fans, just like the players, can’t get too excited yet.
We’ve got a version of our game back. Hopefully soon we’ll have the real thing.
Craig Wilkie. Football Writer. Football Coach. Football Fan.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Star
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