Something is better than nothing as Leeds United get first glimpse of football without fans
Football is nothing like the real thing without fans, but it’s better than nothing...just.
The Bundesliga resumed on Saturday behind closed doors and in front of a huge, intrigued global television audience.
English football tuned in en masse to get a glimpse of what the sport might look and perhaps most pertinently what it might sound like if it is able to make a return in this country too.
Germany became the first major European nation to resume their professional football league, thanks to a number of drastic coronavirus-enforced changes.
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Gone were the pre-game handshakes and physical affection during goal celebrations.
The teams , who all had to observe a seven-day quarantine protocol before the restart, arrived using multiple buses used multiple changing room and took different routes to pitchside for staggered warm ups before kick-off.
Substitutes, five of whom can make an entrance during three permitted replacement opportunities, sat apart on the bench and wore face masks.
The biggest difference between the game being played in Germany and the game we all know and love is the absence of those for whom it is being played.
Stadiums that held tens of thousands before the suspension of European football, are now allowed to hold a maximum of 213 on a matchday.
Empty seats make no noise and the lack of roar that greeted Leeds-born former Whites transfer target Erling Haaland’s Revierderby opener for Dortmund at home to Schalke was jarring.
The Bundesliga released a video on Friday that promised goals, emotion and great football and can celebrate moderate success because two out of three ain’t bad.
Dortmund’s 3-0 lead, secured just after the break killed the game as a contest but it was never a fiery battle and anyone reporting on the historic occasion could almost be forgiven for accusing Schalke’s defence of social distancing from their rivals’ during an insipid performance.
The hosts did play some nice stuff, particularly in the lead up to goals, Haaland grabbing a pretty assist for Raphaël Guerreiro’s beautiful outside of the boot finish, so it was entertaining enough.
With no dog in the fight, it was difficult to get too invested in the game, which ended 4-0 to Dortmund.
That won’t be a problem for Whites, if they find themselves watching their Championship leading, it will be every bit as tense as ever given what is at stake.
German football’s return will be some comfort to Leeds United, whose preference is to get their final nine fixtures played and earn promotion to next season’s top flight.
But as encouraging as it might be to see their counterparts training and competing again, everything can change so quickly and an outbreak of infections among teams or club staff members might bring the game to another juddering halt.
So English football, at least those commited to its return, will be cautiously optimistic at what they saw on BT Sport on Saturday afternoon.
It just won’t feel the same.
There is not the same emotion – the Dortmund players looked more awkward than overjoyed as they steamrolled over their rivals and their traditional post-victory salute to an empty stand was a sad reminder of what has been lost.
Moments of shared delirium between thousands, limbs all over the shop as Luke Ayling smashes a barely-believable volley in off the crossbar, the sound of collective approval as Gaetano Berardi reminds an opponent of his presence, the sights and their accompanying sounds that make the game the emotional joyride we fell in love with, will not be part of football’s present.
That will have to wait.
The longer the absence of fixtures in this country goes on, the harder the sport becomes to tolerate, the more tiresome the quarrels over how leagues should be decided become and the more the yearning grows for something to watch, debate and dissect.
Patrick Bamford tweeted at full-time that the game was ‘dead’ without fans.
There’s no escaping the fact that, in the long term, that statement is entirely true.
But in the short term, maybe we can tolerate what we witnessed on television at the weekend.
It’s something. Something is better than nothing.