Football Without Fans Is Nothing - Just Like We Always Told You
By Gareth Roberts
AS Rhian Brewster’s penalty kick cannoned against the crossbar of a deserted Wembley Stadium, the debates were already in full swing. Who Liverpool should be buying. Who Liverpool should be selling. How the new season would pan out before a game of it has even been played.Embed from Getty Images
Such is the fume-filled world we live in, where a so-called crisis in football is sometimes only a penalty kick away.
For some though, while the Premier League Champions Liverpool contested the Community Shield with FA Cup winners Arsenal, something potentially far more interesting was happening 84 miles away at Brighton’s Amex Stadium.
There, football fans, supporters, people like you, me, and your mates, humans just like those you went to your first ever match with, were allowed inside a Premier League stadium to watch a match for the first time in nearly six months.
For anyone that has ever set foot inside Anfield, for all those people that live for going to the match, that was far more significant than the result of a football lottery in a glorified friendly (and to think Manchester City counted it as a real trophy…).
Just 2,500 fans watched that friendly between Brighton and Chelsea, and in the grand scheme of the football media world, it barely created a ripple.
Yet that was a shot in the arm for anyone and everyone missing their true football fix – matchday; and everything that comes arm in arm with it.
Project Restart was welcome, a much-needed distraction from the worrying and wearing Coronavirus crisis updates coming at you from every angle.
But as good as it was to have football back, and Liverpool being crowned champions obviously helped, there was something as empty as the stands about the whole experience.Embed from Getty Images
Some supporters around the world only ever watch Liverpool play on television. And the behind closed doors games have been a reminder of how lucky those of us who regularly go to matches really are. Never again should it be taken for granted.
But whether you’re a season ticket holder at Anfield or a tv watcher in Adelaide, it’s undeniable that football is lacking what fans bring to the table in creating a spectacle like no other.
It’s the noise, the colour, the backdrop and the emotion. A key part of the story of every match. An edge, an excitement, a drive. It’s the fusion of fans, players and manager, the holy trinity as Bill Shankly called it.
More recently, Pep Lijnders evoked the spirit of the great man, saying: “In life, in general, in the football club: good relationships is the base to evolve the club or the team. As we say, it’s the holy trinity: the fans, the manager and the squad.
“These three have to be really connected, have to be one, have one idea and understand each other.”
It’s precisely that what is missing right now. Anfield has been dressed well with the flags and banners of supporters strewn across The Kop. But it’s a reminder of what it should be, and what it isn’t right now.Embed from Getty Images
It’s weird for us, the fans. And it must surely be weird for them, the players, too.
Think of those big nights and big moments. We’ve all got our own. It might be your first match – the first time you felt part of something, the first time you felt ‘it’. Think of those times when you’ve seen a player lifted by the crowd – Andy Robertson chasing down the ball against Manchester City, Fabinho buoyed by the guttural roars as he crunched Luis Suarez in the comeback of all comebacks against Barcelona.
Think, too, of those amazing nights. Some you may only have read about, others that you may have been fortunate enough to be a part of. Inter Milan in 1965, St Etienne in 1977, Barcelona in 2001, Roma in 2002, Olympiakos in 2004, Juventus and Chelsea in 2005, Chelsea in 2007, Borussia Dortmund in 2016.
Those were times when Liverpool, Anfield and us – we came together to form a ball of defiance. They said no, we said yes. You were part of something. You felt it. It tingled. It crackled. It was special, and you wanted more.
Shankly spoke of “sucking the ball into the net” and there is something about the collective human energy on show at those big occasions at Anfield whereby you know exactly what he meant.
“Going to Anfield was horrible,” John Terry once said.
“The atmosphere: you would drive from the hotel, a 30-minute bus ride and they were all on the streets, winding you up, throwing stuff at the bus.
“It was a nightmare. It was the worst and the best ground to go to. You didn't fear going there. You look forward to going there, you look forward to the big games and big nights.
“The Champions League game in 2005 is probably the best atmosphere I've ever played in.”Embed from Getty Images
That was a night when The Kop felt like it moved underneath our feet. The roars pierced your eardrums. The boos bombarded your senses. The passion brought out a primal surge of energy in you. And that was just in the stands. Imagine what it’s like to play in it.
Sometimes our stories of Liverpool legend are waved away as romantic tosh. The atmosphere of our famous old ground is dismissed as partizan poppycock.
Yet we know better. It was one of the draws for Jurgen Klopp. He’s embraced it. Encouraged it. And what we once feared was on the wane is back by the bucketload. Reports of the death of the Anfield atmosphere were greatly exaggerated.
It’s been good, too, to see the role of fans referenced by players, and not just Liverpool players. Ander Herrera may always be remembered by Reds as a shithouse midfielder who played a part in Steven Gerrard’s 38-second red card against Manchester United. But on the subject of football without fans, there was a lot to love from the Spaniard.
Speaking after the Champions League final, he said: “It's shit, horrible, horrible. For me fans are the key in this sport, the most important thing in football.
“I hope all the people making statements realise that football is for fans and without them we are nothing. Of course, this business had to continue because it's a big business. Even for people who were suffering it's been a good escape for them to watch games, to watch football.
“But let's try to be responsible, everyone – let's try to finish this situation the best way possible first of all for the safety of everyone but second because we love football with fans.”
He nailed it, didn’t he?
As good as the comfort of football has been, and will be once more when the season kicks off this weekend against Leeds United at Anfield, it’s the prospect of one day soon getting back to what we once knew and loved that really whets the appetite.
Talking and planning goes on behind the scenes, all of which could of course change in an instant, given the continued uncertainty of the coronavirus situation.
October 24 has been mentioned as the first home game to be played in front of Liverpool fans since the Champions League exit to Atletico Madrid on March 11. Seven months on.
It would be a reduced capacity at Anfield but would be an important step in the right direction.
Until then, we wait, we watch and we hope. This is football. But not as we know it. It's much missed. We'd love to see it soon.