Football without fans is not at all the football we know

Football without fans is not at all the football we know

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FILE – In this Sunday, March 8, 2020 file photo, a view of the empty San Siro stadium during the Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Genoa, in Milan, Italy. The Italian soccer players’ association rejected a proposal from Serie A clubs Monday to reduce salaries by a third if the season does not summarize as “unmanageable.” The guideline austerity measure was agreed on by 19 of the 20 clubs, the Italian league announced, with Juventus not included because it already finalized a deal with its players to relieve financial pressure on the eight-time defending champion amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni, File)

It is disturbing to watch a soccer game behind closed doors, in a stadium full of echo and air, instead of noise and life. The faces of the players, the shirts they wear and the movements they make are the same, of course, but the environment is so strange, so different, that there is a sense of dislocation. They are sports in the haunting valley.

Stadiums are strange places. Few can be classified as architectural wonders, although there are a handful that do leave you breathless: the Light Stage in Lisbon, where the Benfica eagle flies around the field before each game; Tottenham’s new home, even with that fresh paint feel; the San Siro, Milan’s brutalist cathedral.

What elevates them, what makes them special, is the history engraved on the walls and the people who fill their stands. It is difficult to get a good picture of the Signal Iduna Park, where Borussia Dortmund plays, when it is empty. It is impossible to take a bad picture once the Südtribune (the South stands of the stadium) in Germany is full.

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The Artemio Franchi in Florence it is a soulless bowl when you walk past it on a Tuesday morning. It is the stadium with the most basic design you can imagine, as if the architects had received only an instruction from their fascist employers: “Make it a little round, but not so round.”

However, on a Sunday afternoon, with the Fiorentina at home, it turns into a misty tumult of purple figures. The Old Trafford It is a special ship in a depressing parking lot in England. The Goodison park in Liverpool it looks as if it has been patched with glue.

That, until they come alive. The presence of the fans transforms these places into something that makes the heart beat and also transforms the games that those fans are going to see. They bring emotional resonance to the sport in front of them; Eliminate them and the experience becomes strangely sterile, bordering on the useless and almost depressing. Fans make soccer make sense.

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The Borussia Moenchengladbach stadium, empty during a Bundeslga match against Cologne, on March 11 last. Photo: Reuters

That is why it is an unattractive prospect that it may be months before stadiums are full again: sometime in 2021, even according to some of the most optimistic projections. The public health risks are too great for the massive concentrations of fans in the stadiums and, just as important, also for the fans who go to the stadiums.

Certainly, for many there is no point in playing soccer again until people can go to the stadiums to see it. The slogan that has long been the answer to the casual disregard of the soccer business towards the paying public – “soccer is nothing without fans” – now applies more literally than ever.

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And even so, with all the sincerity and importance of that feeling, with everything and that football without fans is not football at all we knowThe fact that most of the major leagues in Europe are preparing to play without an audience for a time should not be dismissed as a decision that is only based on dirty convenience and poorly disguised greed. A path taken merely for the benefit of television. After all, people who watch games on television are also fans.

For many, this is a delicate subject. In general, there is a strict hierarchy among fans, one that popular wisdom unconditionally supports (and I know that violating it may not be popular).

In this classification, the best fans, the most devoted, are those who travel to see their teams play as visitors and go to all their home games. They spend hours and days on buses and trains, sacrificing everything for the love of its colors. Some of them are ultras by declaration; some only by inclination.

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The entrance to Old Trafford, the stadium for Manchester United. Photo: AP

Right after them, there are those who go to local games, those who make the commitment to design their weekends around their teams, those who make football the centerpiece of their lives. Those who occasionally go to games have a certain prestige; those who only appear in the stadium on big occasions, a little less. Fans who only watch games on television are lagging at a distance, in some cases are derided and are not considered true fans.

However, this is an outdated model, one that worked when teams were local and tickets were affordable, much less so now. No matter how devoted they are, some fans might not be able to be present geographically. Perhaps they have family commitments that prevent them from going. They might work on the weekends. They may not have enough money for a game ticket, let alone a season ticket or the resources, time or even the ability to travel.

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So when we say that parties are being organized for the benefit of television, what we mean is that matches are being organized for the benefit of fans, most of whom can only watch them on television. “Television” is an abstract term, designed to hide and stigmatize.

For most fans and everyone except a tiny percentage of the top teams, it is the only way to consume football. It is, of course, also what keeps everything running: Those exorbitant television agreements are only possible because of the subscriptions obtained by the channels, because of the advertising they can sell, and because of the money that, in the end, comes from the fans..

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The Mestalla stadium, empty during the Champions League match between Valencia and Atalanta, on March 13 last. Photo: AP

Organizing games behind closed doors is not ideal. It is not what anyone wants. It is, for lack of a better term, worse than when the stands are full of noise and color, when there is unbridled joy on one side and relentless grief on the other. But we are not in an ideal world right now. What we are left with are difficult options to swallow.

There are still many obstacles to overcome before soccer can return. It must be determined that training will be safe for players and then that games will be safe. It must be decided that it will not generate any unnecessary burden in an overloaded State. No party is worth a single life.

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Soccer without an audience. Racing-Alianza Lima, for the Copa Libertadores. Photo: Mario Quinteros

However, having the fans there, in the stadium, should not be the goal. Yes, football is nothing without fans. However, for now, those fans will have to be much further away than they would like. Sadly, it is a sacrifice that must be made.

After all, the other alternative to a few months of watching sports in the haunting valley is even bleaker. The economic consequences of waiting for a perfect world are such that by the time fans are allowed to return to the stadiums, there may be no one left to see on the field.

Without visible leadership, silence is covered by many voices

“Our only virus is PSG,” says the poster at the empty stadium on March 11, before PSG-Borussia Dortmund, for the Champions League. Photo: AFP

Javier Thebes, the man who runs La Liga, has given so many press conferences in recent weeks that we could assume he is carrying a microphone in his pocket. Christian Seifert, his Bundesliga counterpart, has been clear on both the benefits and the dangers of Germany’s plan to resume soccer in the coming weeks. Aleksander Ceferin, president of the UEFA, has accepted interview requests from across the continent.

However, on the part of the Premier League, the richest national soccer competition on the planet, the one that has more spectators and more fans and creates more noise than any other, there has only been silence.

And in many ways, it is a sensible decision. It is impossible to set a date for the possible return of football. It is foolish to try to anticipate a pandemic. Why set a deadline if you know you may not meet it? The Premier League may have decided to be prudent, patient, and not to be held hostage by fate.

Which would be nice, if not for the fact that football hates emptiness. And now, in the absence of clear direction, the conversation about how – or if – the Premier League season will resume has become the domain of anonymous sources: Several executives, at various levels, came up with their ideas, products of your imagination, shaping the discussion for your own ends.

The Premier League, almost exclusively, appears to be unable to speak with one voice and to propose a collective solution to a collective problem. Not a great sign, at the start of their biggest challenge in the organization’s 28-year history. There is a risk that, if the economic damage fails to end their supremacy, their taste for selfish disputes will.

A proof of commitment

Fanny Rodriguez celebrates Boca’s victory over River at La Bombonera, last September. Photo: AP

When asked about suggestions for topics to cover during the indefinite suspension of soccer, several of you requested more coverage on the possible effects of the pandemic on women’s soccer. With good reason, moreover: it is difficult to ignore the feeling that at least part of the growth that we have seen in recent years, especially in Europe, is at risk.

In part, that happens because much of the conversation around how to resume soccer is inherently, unconsciously, structurally, male. Compress the rest of the season in a month or six weeks, for example? That’s fine for men’s teams, with their 25-player squad, but it’s much more demanding for women, who tend to have a much smaller core of female players at their disposal.

However, the other aspect is more worrying. In Europe, and in the National Women’s Soccer League In the United States (although much less so), the trend in recent years has been for men’s and women’s teams to be linked: as divisions of the same club, although in practice they are generally unequal partners. The men’s team tends to be the established priority; the women’s team, even one with the most achievements, is subordinate.

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However, that approach has been widely claimed: women’s sport has grown steadily and sometimes spectacularly during the last decade. But that has always come with an obvious disadvantage. Most women’s teams still depend in some way on the money that goes into men’s sports for funding. Very often they are forgotten when discussing infrastructure. Additionally, men’s soccer’s tribal loyalties spill over that of women, limiting the interest of fans of each team.

However, now comes a real test. Many in women’s soccer fear that as clubs grapple with contract finances, the relatively meager amounts they spend on their women’s teams will be the first to go, perceived as an easy way to redirect money to their favorite son. Football, in full, will suffer the consequences of the virus and the suspension of games. The concern is that suffering, like all others, may not be shared equally.

I mean

By Rory Smith, Manchester based chief correspondent for The New York Times.


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