Absence of crowds will damage football’s very fabric

SHOULD the Corona Virus crisis accelerate out of control in the UK, which we are being told is inevitable, then football may have to be suspended or played behind closed doors. Already some leagues, such as Italy’s Serie A, are talking of playing games in empty stadiums and China, needless to day, has completely suspended its Super League season.

Financially, football could be facing a major challenge, with cash flow drying-up and championships caught in limbo. With some clubs living hand to mouth, the prospect of matchday income disappearing, some smaller clubs may be tipped into bankruptcy. And if things really get bad, broadcasting, the lifeblood of top clubs, could insist on a review of their deals with major leagues. The implications for the global economy are grim should China be frozen out of global trade – just examine how much we rely on the country in supply chains. We could even face a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, and considering China really helped the developed world out of the mire, you have to wonder where the assistance will come from this time.

Perversely, non-league football in the UK could capitalise on the reluctance to be part of a big, heaving crowd. Given that the crisis has prompted panic-buying (of toilet roll among other items) to compare with the sugar crisis of the 1970s, it remains to be seen if football fans will stop going to big, heavily-populated matches for fear of being infected by the virus. Already we are seeing areas such as Chinatown in London suffering from neurosis and the London Underground is less packed, especially in carriages where Chinese tourists are standing.

Football played in empty stadiums is a sombre affair and really looks awful. It is difficult to find a game with no crowd a stimulating experience and actually, for some strange reason, the game feels of a lesser quality.

The fact is, as the ultra banners state, “football without fans is nothing”. They have a point. The crowd feeds the game with emotion and enthusiasm and the game itself is given the oxygen it needs from the fans. It’s a two-way agreement. A football stadium is a huge barn or car park without people making a noise, creating the atmosphere and banter, a sea of humanity providing the soundtrack for the afternoon or evening. A near miss is a badly-timed shot without the gasps or sighs of the crowd.

If the Premier and Football League should decide they need to close grounds to the public, we will have reached a critical stage in the spread of the virus. Football won’t be the only problem, public transport will be derelict, supermarkets will be toxic and other places that attract crowds, such as nightspots, restaurants and schools will all be impacted.

From football’s perspective, the end of 2019-20 season would be a damp squib for many clubs, notably Liverpool who are waiting to be anointed as Premier League champions for the first time. How ironic would it if their moment of rebirth is restricted to an empty Anfield and no public display of joy?

Euro 2020 and the Olympics may both be non-runners. The very thing sport provides, a distraction from the problems of everyday life, will be removed. Bread and circuses doesn’t work when the masses are laid low with a debilitating illness.

It’s difficult to really know how the disease will progress through the summer months. Although 2019-20 may limp to conclusion, the disruption may also extend to 2020-21 season. We can only hope the predictions are more caution than calculated.

Photo: PA


One thought on “Absence of crowds will damage football’s very fabric

  1. Very good article Neil. The unnecessary panic buying that has gone totally over the top in the past few days is going to get worse. As someone who has been carrying a bottle of hand gel/sanitiser around for years and regarding it as the norm I find it quite shocking that “hand washing” and basic daily hygiene is being branded as some kind of new innovative practice.

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