The current conversation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is geared around preparing the population for “the new normal” in society – and football is no exception to that.
It’s looking increasingly likely that football’s reintroduction behind closed doors will be for the long-term, with the Premier League reportedly planning for the entirety of the 2020/21 season to be played in empty stadiums.
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Such a decision would have major repercussions throughout the game – on clubs, broadcasters, sponsors, and of course supporters themselves, who will be barred from the spectacle they help create. Think of the poor Arsenal fans in particular: if they can’t turn up and pay good money for the privilege of booing their own players, what else is there to do on a weekend?!
This is the reality we’re likely to face however, so we better make the best of this bad situation. So to try and counter the fact games will soon be unfolding in soulless stadiums, we’ve come up with five ways to try and help replace the atmosphere we’ll be losing…
1 – Cardboard cutouts
An approach pioneered by Taiwan and South Korea’s professional baseball leagues in recent weeks, filling stadiums with cardboard cutouts of fans at least makes the stands look a bit more lively and colourful, as opposed to a sea of faded plastic seats.
We’ll soon be able to see what impact this has a bit closer to home, with Borussia Mönchengladbach fans given the ability to upload their own pictures onto cutouts to occupy what would have been their matchday pew.
The home stands are filling up nicely though! Over 4,500 cut-outs in place and 12,000+ ordered 😍
The website is now live in English too to give our international fans a chance to order their cut-out for €19.00 via bank transfer! 🐎💚
— Gladbach (@borussia_en) May 6, 2020
There are, however, two drawbacks to this approach. One: They don’t make any sound (although that’s not a problem for any games staged at Old Trafford). And two: Given it relies on fans sending in their own picture, it’s open to abuse. All it takes is a few pro pranksters to unite, and suddenly you’d have an entire stadium packed to the rafters with portraits of Joe Exotic.
Actually, we’d tune in to see that.
— Daniel♟ (@DanielBurgess00) May 6, 2020
2 – Inspirational murals
This method draws on inspiration from Arsenal in the early 1990s, when reconstruction work on Highbury’s North Bank was masked by a giant mural of supporters.
If football returns with no fans, we really should fish out the old Highbury North Bank mural pic.twitter.com/ToTWu9GAQ2
— max is staying indoors (@maxbettridge) April 17, 2020
The start of 92/93 will forever be synonymous with the infamous North Bank mural 😁 pic.twitter.com/H9CyyGoWam
— The Bruised Banana 🎙️ (@tbbpod) April 30, 2020
Keeping in mind the game is about nothing but money these days (why else are we rushing the sport back?!), the one major benefit to the murals would be the ability for clubs to splash sponsors’ logos all over them.
Plastering your stadium with a giant, beautifully hand painted advertising hoarding that’s 100 times the size of a normal one is a great way for clubs to earn some much needed coin. We bet perennial football advertising partner Rainham Steel wouldn’t believe their luck.
3 – Pump FanZone commentary into stadiums
Ah, FanZone. Who else remembers bearing witness to this behind Sky Sports’ red button, an intoxicating mix of pillocks shouting into microphones 200 miles away from where their team is actually playing?
Despite its lunacy, it proved to be annoyingly addictive viewing. So let’s bring it back, only this time live in the stadium – so long as both fans are kept a safe Peter Crouch-length distance apart, of course.
It’d amuse the listening fans at home – far better than the eerie silence of a training ground-style atmosphere – and pumping the audio into the stadium speakers would put the players at ease. After all, there’d be occasional chanting, cheering at goals and merciless abuse from their own supporter… everything the modern player has come to expect!
4 – Play pre-recorded matchday atmospheres
This is a practice already adopted in some clubs’ stadiums, naming no names (*cough* Chelsea, *cough* Spurs) even when playing in a sold-out stadium. Thus it doesn’t take a giant leap of imagination to picture it being an option genuinely taken up by the Premier League.
Combining it with cardboard cutouts in the stands wouldn’t actually be that bad considering the circumstances, but crucially broadcasters would have to make it realistic. That includes the occasional colourful language being picked up on a rogue microphone that Martin Tyler has to apologise for, and deafening anti-Mike Ashley chants up at St James’ Park.
5 – Mic up the referee
Recording every word said to and by a referee à la rugby union is something that has long been called for in football. And it’s always been rejected, mainly because the “bleep” button for the live coverage would wear out far too quickly.
Now is the time, though, to offer people the option to listen in if they want. Grown adults should be granted the option of tapping the red button to hear players call Mike Dean a “cheating pr*ck” (they’re living our dream!), purely for the additional entertainment it would provide.
Just look at how insightful it was the only time fans have previously been allowed to hear what was being said, way back in 1989 during a clash between Millwall and Arsenal. We’re missing out!