Football has restarted.
The Bundesliga, of which everyone on this freaking planet suddenly became an aficionado and an expert, has been the first on the top five European leagues to kick-start the end of their campaign, after the lockdown.
Games were obviously played behind closed doors and health & safety measures were applied to guarantee everyone’s well-being. Although some of them are debatable are others are bordering the ridiculous, the football system has come to life again.
I’m still scratching my head around the idea that forming a wall to defend a free-kick is allowed, while celebrating a goal with your teammates is not, but it’s not an original thought nor an interesting one; decisions were made, football has restarted. Amen.
What I really don’t understand is how the season-ticket holder or the long-life supporter would benefit from this: professional football restarting is good for the Clubs, who would avoid penalties from the TV broadcasters in case of cancellation of the remainder of the season; it is good for national Football Associations and the UEFA, who would be spared from thinking about the consequences of voiding a whole season on the existing schedule, next seasons’ calendars, promotions and relegations, money prizes, financial impact et cetera; it is good for the TV broadcasters, whose profit has been impacted by the subscriptions’ cancellations or pausing (where allowed) and is good for football agents and lawyers, who would avoid going into complex negotiations about renewals of expiring deals and all the possible scenarios related to a potential cancellation of a season or a postponement to a date beyond the natural expiration of a contract between a player and a Club.
Basically, football restarting is good for anyone making money out of it.
Now, guess who’s missing from this list? The only parts truly essential: fans and players.
The following is not a rhetorical questions: what’s the point of football without fans?
If you take supporters out of the equation, football is just rich Clubs setting up a very expensive hobby in oversized venues, rigorously empty.
I don’t see the point.
The grotesque spectacle would be anything but football: how would professional footballers play whole-heartedly with no one to share the joy or the pain with? How would they celebrate yet another goal scored in front of an empty stand?
For all you can say about them being professional, it being just a job for them and footballers being more and more apart from their supporters and the reality, you can still see when a goal means more than a bonus prize. Take the example of Danny Welbeck last-minute winner against Leicester City in 2016, he went straight to the fans when the ball rolled in and the team followed, in a wild celebration that still gives me goosebumps – don’t tell me it would have been the same in an empty stadium, for them or for us. Even for those, like me, who can only attend a handful of games per season, the effect of that goal through the television would have been completely different, with or without a packed stadium erupting with joy and incredulity.
No fans. no party
The relationship between footballers and fans has evolved in the past decades, not necessarily in a good way, but deep-down the connection is still there because almost every professional footballer grew up with a devouring passion for the game and almost every supporter grew up dreaming of being on a specific pitch, with a specific shirt on.
That never goes away.
So, Football Associations, TV broadcasters and local governments have all agreed to restart the football season and decided to sacrifice the two most-important elements: fans and footballers.
The leitmotif we heard is that football restarting “is good for the nation’s morale” and “would bring back an idea of normality” while it’s pretty clear that the only real reason was financial.
It sounds to me that the decision-makers’ idea of football is two professional Clubs fielding twenty-two employees in a televised event, a vision where fans could be eliminated or replaced artificially as proven by Sky Sport in Germany, who were prompt to offer their subscribers “a freely selectable new alternative audio track with a recorded stadium atmosphere”.
Truth is that football doesn’t exist without players and fans but would still exist without national associations, professional clubs and TV broadcaster; as long as the government bodies do not come to terms with this, any attempt to restart football anywhere else in Europe would prove to be a pathetic surrogate, destined to fail.