Football without the 12th player.
Just how important is the crowd in the football experience?
Switching between PSG v Dortmund and Liverpool v Atletico Madrid was interesting last night. Not just because we saw golden boy Haaland being mocked by PSG or saw Marcos Llorente, a substitute, score two magnificent goals against Liverpool at home in extra time - but for another reason entirely. We saw the difference a crowd makes to the game for the players and the viewers.
As a response to Coronavirus, sporting associations including UEFA and the Premier League, have been forced to close stadium doors, avoiding congestion of people to combat the spread of the virus. This strategy means that football seasons can continue without delay, though it will obviously change the experience for players and fans alike.
This isn't new information for any football fan on Earth the last few weeks, however seeing PSG & Dortmund playing behind closed doors was fascinating to me. Hearing football without the screams of fans reminded me of watching weekend football. It made the game feel more... normal? Like something you see on a local pitch. Where the dialogue between players and coaches is louder than the the sound of those watching. You can hear the boots smack the ball crisply and clearly and the banter, or confrontation, between players more distinctly. It's football but a different kind than the one we watch on TV. There is something captivating about it to me. It's humbling and humanising, reminding us that these athletes are like us, they scream, shout, act out and without the crowds - they're just 22 men playing football. Without the beckoning crowds and the religious chanting, football is just football.
Take a look at the highlights between PSG & Dortmund. What do you think?
Now, let's head back to Liverpool. We aren't going to go into a great deal about the result (I'm not ready for that discussion...) I want to look at the contrast the game provided last night to the closed doors in Paris.
If any team's performance can be boosted by their fans, it's Liverpool. Last night's game was intensified by the consistent cheering and chanting of the crowd, holding their YNWA banners high into the sky. The higher the volume of the crowd, the higher the pedestal of the players sit on - their godly status perpetuated. It's just how it is. This is why we look up to these athletes, not just because they earn unimaginable sums of money, but because they are the heroes to thousands, no, millions! This is the 'other' kind of football I was talking about earlier. This is the football you see on TV.
However, just how important are the fans in manipulating the game? Closed doors emits the 12th player that is arguably just as important as one of the other 11. The home team advantage exists for a reason and this is why UEFA award more goals for scoring away from home. It's simply harder to succeed without the sea of support on each side of the football pitch. However, if last night taught us anything - it's that the final results are decided by the teams. The experience may change, but the first 11 will decide the score.
Marcos Llorente and Atletico Madrid defeated the 12th player and held their own against an intense Anfield crowd last night, and a fantastic performance by the Reds (Gini & Ox especially). Don't be fooled though - the home team advantage is still a real threat.
To put it simply - the crowd changes the experience. The reality of a season behind closed doors scares me a little. While it's cool to hear the details of the game, it just feels different without the crowds. A few games is interesting, all games; a shame. With the Premier League to be played behind closed doors, along with Serie A potentially cancelled, the immediate future of football (and other sports) is uncertain. Closing doors does not stop fans from congregating in public spaces and celebrating together, but it does make football feel different. Ok - It's just football, but football is more than a game to millions of people.
In saying all of this - the number one priority is preventing the spread of coronavirus. Stay home when possible, wash your hands well and follow the necessary precautions to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
What do you think about closed door football? Leave a comment. Let's discuss.