I vividly remember the first time I switched on the television to watch a sporting event without fans. I was aware of the new regulations and yet still could not fathom how the sport I loved for its spine tingling anthems, dynamic crowds, and powerful emotions was now a game where one could hear the players whisper.
In sports like Tennis and Badminton, the crowd usually maintains discipline and is advised to stay silent before each serve. In football, there are no such rules. Distractions can make the difference and dictate whether one loves or hates the game. Over the years, specific countries, towns, and stadiums have gained reupations around ‘hostility’, often influencing the physiological pressure on players, especially youngsters. At the same time, the most prolific athletes use this hostile atmosphere to fuel their performances. Cristiano Ronaldo described the empty stadiums as “circuses without clowns” and “gardens without flowers”. The point is clear: the game isn't the same.
Some leagues, for a short time, began creating “virtual” crowds and using pre-recorded sound effects, both of which were solely for entertainment value. For me, this was not necessary. Football is a game which unfolds like a film; the only difference is everything is real. As a fan, I can tell you that sometimes the experience itself can compensate for a bad result. When thousands burst into euphoric chaos, whistle loudly before a penalty or in protest, and jump in unison, creating something close to an earthquake, you know the game is alive. The key word there is “alive”.
Football, in essence, is meant to bring people together. It has an universal appeal like no other sport. It gives people pride in who they are and where they come from. This is felt and reciprocated by the players, some of which grew up in the crowds themselves. Argentine legend Leo Messi explained how his teammates were baffled by the concept of playing without a crowd. I can imagine how mental preparation changes for those who’ve spent decades performing for thousands and now walk out to visual vacancy. One day, when fans are able to return, we will value this connection even more.
Apart from the noises, some crowds can create art themselves. For years, iconic grounds like the Signal Iduna Park - Borussia Dortmund's stronghold - have designated a stand which creates a masterpiece before a game. Thousands of fans hold up colored paper precisely organized like a puzzle to depict an image. Weather symbolic or simply the colors of the team, this sends shivers down everyone’s back. Before the whistle blows, that mixture of nerves, pride, excitement, and anticipation makes a player feel unstoppable. Even if it only happens for a second, this feeling is built by everyone in the stadium. Many of you can relate to this rush of adrenaline. Regardless of skill, every player dreams for these emotions. Even beyond sport, the concept of community will resonate with people differently. And when normalcy returns, like Liverpool’s memorable motto, we will truly understand what it means to “Never Walk Alone”.