As the 2019-20 football season draws to a close, plenty of coverage will be devoted to transfers and tactics. However, in what has been an extraordinary year, we must also think about how the fan experience has drastically altered. The landscape of empty grounds swathed with club flags is a dystopian look, but it’s one born out of necessity.
When the Bundesliga returned in May, there was uncertainty about whether it was too soon. The Premier League followed suit in mid-June, with a strict and comprehensive structure in place to handle and mitigate the effects of Covid-19. There have been few hiccups. Football has been entertaining, but the sight of empty stands has also forced us to consider what the football experience comprises. The absence of fans removes the soul from the game. Organic crowd sound enhances the game in ways that we all know about. The addition of canned crowd noise on TV broadcasts was helpful, but delayed sounds also provided a stark reminder of the times we live in.
Largely, the return of football has been for the better. It’s a return to debating the usual narratives in the game, instead of daily updates on Project Restart. Football is a business, whether we like it or not, and jobs are at stake. Considering the sport is an escape mechanism for so many, the games have certainly been a welcome sight. It has come at a breakneck speed too, with a game almost every day. That leads into the more pertinent question: at what point does football become oversaturated?
Of course, the pandemic forced games to be squeezed in – and after months of no football, fans couldn’t complain. But looking at next season there’s plenty of football, even in midweek. Throw in international football, and you have a packed season. With the Euros next summer, you’re looking at non-stop football until summer 2022, the year in which a winter World Cup will cause a further fixture log-jam. During the lockdown, some claimed they’d rather watch an inconsequential mid-table game than nothing. But this simply isn’t true: absence makes the heart fonder, but eventually, things fall back in place.
Is this too much? Is this already too much? And does anybody care enough? I don’t think so. But it offers some food for thought. For now, we can only hope fans slowly return back to stadiums once safe, so that the football experience can gain some semblance of normality.