From record-breaking teams, to board decisions. The absence of fans this year has had a major impact on the season.
When Michael Oliver blew his whistle to signal the end of Saturday’s clash between Arsenal and Manchester United, it brought an end to a drab game that finished 0-0 at a hollow Emirates Stadium. One of English football’s greatest rivalries that has not the same spark for quite some time. Saturday’s stalemate exemplified that.
Neither side has been a major title contender in recent years – barring United’s recent surge which may yet prove to be short lived- and so the competitive edge is nowhere near the days of Ferguson and Wenger.
However, tradition and hatred always exists between the two sets of supporters and perhaps that was the biggest loss on Saturday. Without a doubt this Premier League season has severely missed its fans.
Both sides seemed content with the goalless draw and a pair of performances that would have left fans less than pleased. Motivation seemed to be lacking and perhaps a packed Emirates would have drove the Arsenal players to push on and go for it against a United side that had recently been beaten by Sheffield United.
It is not an issue that only impacted this fixture. This season has certainly been an unusual one, but the intensity and gravitas of games is lacking due to there being no supporters present. Its effect leads to more than just dodgy fan noises implemented by the broadcasters. The absence of fans has played a major role in some of the biggest narratives of the season.
Broken records and no one to see
The scoreless draw at the Emirates meant that Manchester United have then gone 18 games unbeaten away from home. They have now broken the 1999 treble winner’s record of 17. The impressive feat was somewhat subdued by the lacklustre manner in which the 18th game unbeaten was obtained. The last time they were beaten away from home was a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in January of last year.
The majority of these away games have come after March 9th, when fans were last allowed in full at stadiums. So how much has the absence of fans impacted the fortunes of United on the road?
The intimidation of an away fixture loses its sting if there isn’t 40,000 opposition fans letting you know that this is their home. If anything, this season has had an element of neutrality in each fixture, without an atmosphere does it make a difference to the players as to what stadium they are playing in?
Of course without fans the ‘fear-factor’ is not present at a lot of grounds. Anfield was one of the few that had managed to maintain that fortress-like feeling. That sense of invincibility at home was dispelled thanks to an Ashley Barnes penalty. Granted, Liverpool have had problems with injuries and squad depth this season and these have both played a part in their form this season.
But similarly with Arsenal and the Emirates, a packed Kop might have spurred on the players and given them that feeling of being ten feet tall. Crazy things can happen in football, but it is interesting to think how different that Burnley result could have been had Anfield been packed that night.
The empty stadiums don’t just have an impact on what happens on the pitch. Its ripple effect has made its way off the pitch as well. Liverpool’s aforementioned issues with squad depth have come from a reluctance to buy players and it raises the question as to how much have clubs felt the impact of no gate receipts?
It was estimated by Statista in September that Liverpool will lose £102.6m due to the Covid-19 containment measures. Along with broadcasting rights, clubs rely heavily on gate receipts and ultimately these losses impact transfer dealings.
‘The peoples game’, silenced
With fans unable to attend matches, it has become increasingly difficult for them to project their feelings and opinions about their clubs. It seems that if they are not present to make noise at matches, they go unheard.
A banner was hung outside of Stamford Bridge by Chelsea supporters following the sacking of Frank Lampard. “Circus Continues”, it read, relating to the Chelsea board’s insistence on letting go of managers after giving them very little time. If stories emerging from the Chelsea camp are to be believed, the Chelsea board had very little faith in Lampard this season.
It is obvious from the banner bestowed at Stamford Bridge that the Chelsea supporters believe he should have been given more time. Things may have been different had fans been in Stamford Bridge voicing their support for one of the greatest players to wear a Chelsea shirt. It would have applied more pressure on the board and perhaps Lampard would have been given more time.
The consequences of sacking a popular manager are not the same when the fans are not present to voice their displeasure.
The 2020/21 season has been a strange one so far and will certainly be one to remember. The empty stadiums is something that no fan has really gotten use to and certainly they do not want it to become the norm. Never have fans affected a season so much and ironically it is the season where they are not present.
If anything this season exemplifies the football romantic’s mantra – football is nothing without fans.