“By most metrics the first part of this experiment has been a success. It did feel unusual, but it was still football”
Last Updated: 16/05/20 8:06pm
With the eyes of the world on the Bundesliga, how did their return go? From social distancing goal celebrations to substitutes wearing masks, what did we learn?
Elite level football returned for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic lockdown on Saturday with the Bundesliga undergoing their restart procedure.
With the Premier League planning to go down the same route in June, there was much interest regarding the logistics of staging a football match behind closed doors and the protocols that needed to be adhered to.
So, what was it like?
‘Ghost game’ atmosphere
Despite lockdown being eased further on Friday in Germany allowing cafes, restaurants and bars with outside seating to reopen, football returned behind closed doors in an almost empty stadium.
“It’s strange and unfamiliar, it makes your heart bleed,” Borussia Dortmund’s sporting director Michael Zorc said.
A maximum of 300 people were allowed into each stadium, a maximum of 100 into the ‘interior’, 100 into the concourse and a further 100 around the perimeter. All those entering the stadium needed to go through the necessary safety checks on entry, including having their temperature taken and masks had to be worn.
Watching on from afar via TV coverage, it was an eerie almost surreal experience watching top-level footballers lining up for a top-flight game where you could hear a pin-drop instead of the usual pre-match excitement from the stands. Dortmund played “You’ll Never Walk Alone” on their sound-system but it didn’t quite produce the same buzz as it usually generates as the players skipped the usual pre-match rountines of handshakes, team photos and the coin toss. There were also no mascots.
When the game kicked off, every meaty pass could be heard on the microphones. Every collision between players could be felt at home. Dortmund striker Erling Haaland’s scream when he was caught late by Schalke defender Salif Sane in the build-up to Dortmund’s third goal in their 4-0 win pierced through at home.
Haaland was fortunately fit enough to continue as he stole the show with a performance that backed up the view that he’s the most exciting young striker in Europe.
Despite periods of almost dead silence, especially when the game was over at 4-0, the game did not lack for intensity despite the absence of crowd noise. Thomas Delaney was booked for a fierce flying elbow on Suat Serdar in the first half to rubberstamp the notion that these games will be played with the usual competitive edge.
“It was very, very special,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said in the virtual post-match news conference. “There’s no noise, you create a chance, you play a top pass, a goal and … nothing. It’s very, very weird. We miss our fans very much. It was just a very different match.”
Did the fans stay away?
As with matches across Germany, along with no fans being permitted inside the stadium, the streets surrounding it were also cordoned off by police. Concerns had been expressed over whether fans would congregate at stadiums like Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion. Germany has the highest average attendance figures for football in Europe and Dortmund’s players are used to playing in front of 80,000 every week.
However, the threat of matches being immediately abandoned if fans turned up en masse outside the ground seemed to be enough of a deterrent.
From the pictures below you can see team buses were met with an unusually quiet welcome to the ground at Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion.
“You get a feel of how much people were welcoming live sport back on their screens here in Dortmund,” reported Sky News sports correspondent Martha Kelner from Dortmund.
“A lot were watching from home but many in bars and cafes which have been allowed to open since yesterday. It was unusual, coming from England to Germany how much the lockdown here has been relaxed. Some of the tables have been moved apart, most of the waiting staff were wearing masks, but it did feel like it was returning to some kind of normal.
“People inside were saying it’s not the same and they’d rather be inside the stadium, but they’re just happy football is back. They were pleased to see it back on the screen, the players seemed to cope well with the surroundings too.”
New look goal celebrations…
Piggyback rides, team bundles and kissing your team-mate look to be a thing of the past for football in the foreseeable future. Players were instructed by the authorities in the aftermath of a goal, to remain vigilant and avoid celebrating with their teammates.
The perfect example of this was Haaland after scoring Dortmund’s opener.
It was a cool finish from Thorgan Hazard’s cross that took him to 10 goals in his nine league appearance for Dortmund. He instantly wheeled away in usual style towards the corner flag in celebration but jubilant team-mates kept their distance as four or five Dortmund players rather awkwardly celebrated on their own with Haaland orchestrating the dance.
Not all players stuck to the guidelines though as emotions ran wild for Hertha Berlin’s third goal in their win over Hoffenhein. Matheus Cunha’s effort was certainly the goal of the day following a mazy run down the left wing and a sublime finish that drew adulation from his peers – this was perhaps an indication of how eliminating the explosion of joy after a goal may prove problematic on certain occasions.
Keep your distance…
Of course, playing football while maintaining social distancing is impossible due to the contact nature, but strict protocols are in place off the field to keep players two metres apart before, during and after the matches. The strangest situation for the onlooking fan was to see substitutes sat far apart from each other on the bench with all players wearing masks.
The TV manager interviews also bordered on the bizarre with the interviewer and coach two metres apart and the microphone covered in a plastic sheet.
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Source : Sky Sports