Chances are, if you have watched enough football in your life, you have seen a match start with a moment of silence. The entire stadium is quiet until, eventually, someone yells something out in the middle of it that breaks the silence. For the most part, these are powerful moments, but there may be nothing more fitting than football steamrolling a return and each game being one 90-minute-long moment of silence reminding us all what it cost in order to force games to happen. Football had to be played behind closed doors if it was going to return. I get it, and it’s true. If football leagues wanted to get games underway again, on this timeline, it had to be without fans.
If ever people were unsure, it is now abundantly clear what fans mean to a sport. They aren’t everything, but they are an integral part of the game and atmosphere that has been arguably undervalued or under appreciated by clubs raising the price to take part in a day with their team to absorbent levels. If anything, I hope this serves as a reason that football will have to reassess what it asks its vital patrons to part with in order to gain entrance and participate, after this pandemic.
As I have briefly mentioned, if there is a team I won’t mind following in absence of Arsenal, it will be Fortuna Dusseldorf. I only chose them because they have found themselves in a relegation scrap, which is something I hope will add an element of urgency or drama to their matches.
To be honest, it didn’t. In a game where Dusseldorf hit the post 3 times, the fans would have been spurring their team on, hollering to have them get after it and mount another attack. Instead, shots hit the post and the game just sort of continued on its way. There was little spike in emotion, work rate, or pressure. Some of this could be due to the limited amount of time they have had back, but it’s impossible to discount the aspect of not having an external presence of the masses putting their hearts on the line to stand in your corner.
Instead, fans witnessed a high level of guidelines and protocols being put in place that were laughable, given the contradictions of the game itself. Elbow-touching handshakes, substitutes social distancing, no touching during goal celebrations, but why? Moments later players find themselves wrestling each other on a corner kick, standing shoulder to shoulder in the wall on a free kick, clashing into tackles, and even arguing with one another inches from the face of their opposition. I found myself wincing when a hard tackle was made. Not because hard tackles hurt, but because I would think to myself, “ooooo that’s the one that’s infected him.”
The worst part of all these contradicting measures, is that when it all goes bad, players get ill, and teams can’t participate – the league will shrug, point to these rules and say they did their best to make it all work. And they did do their best to make it all work, but to make it all work on their own schedule. To fit their own timelines and their own needs to make life and decisions easier on them.
So the games will continue, results will be had, leagues will get settled, teams will still be angry at the end of the season as their team falls short of their pipe dream goals of not being relegated, or promoted, or qualifying for Europe — and all will be done in relative silence. The echoing silence of every kick of the ball. The occasional, silence piercing shouts of players and managers, and the shrill whistle to mark the start and end.
So please, let us take a moment, rise, and observe a brief 90-minute moment of silence for what games have become and what we have lost to make it happen in a world undergoing a global pandemic.