League football has tried its best to maintain a semblance of normality through the crisis, most notably through the use of recorded audio to replace the sound of live crowds. Despite such efforts, fans are missing the spectacle and, following a year of chaos, reflecting on what has changed.
“I now especially miss the passion and emotion during the match, and the adrenaline that goes through your body during matches against rivals”, says Mitch Boersma, an FC Groningen supporter who has been attending matches since a young age.
He’s a bit more reserved about the effect live fans have on their team, elaborating that sometimes teams just face bad luck or a better team. Boersma admits that “sometimes it is possible (for fans) to give the players some extra energy.”
James Shirt, primarily a Newcastle United fan and Master’s student in Groningen, shares hesitance about the positive effects of fans. He has witnessed an unlikely benefit from empty stadiums on his own club, elaborating that players appeared “much less stressed and…played way better without the fans.”
Reflecting on his wait for the restart of football after the first wave of the coronavirus hit, Shirt said the first game he watched “was a random Bundesliga game, which I normally wouldn’t care about, but at that point I was desperate.”
Despite not being able to attend, Shirt believes that loyalty will always remain among supporters. “For true fans, their club will always be relevant in their minds because their club is part of their identity”, he elaborates.
It’s a sentiment that Marc, a business controller based in Utrecht who supports Feyenoord, agrees with, but admits how the sport is watched hasn’t come without difficulty for fans. He says that those used to attending matches in person have had “difficulties getting used to watching on TV.”
It’s hard to ignore a missing social element in how football is followed during the pandemic and Mitch Boersma testifies that he would often go to games with friends, colleagues or family.
“There’s definitely like a social and community aspect to football that people forget about”, says James Shirt, adding how it’s a cornerstone of poorer communities in the UK and when taken away, people can “feel quite isolated.”
Shirt doesn’t believe football will return to normal in Europe for a long time, but a staggered return to live attendance by summer could happen “if the vaccine and lockdowns work.”