10 things we've learned in a year of empty, soulless stadiums

Liverpool aren’t good at walking alone, referees have awarded more penalties to away teams than home sides and Alexandre Lacazette is the scream king… 10 things we’ve learned in a year of empty, soulless stadiums

  • 4,000 spectators will attend Leicester and Southampton’s FA Cup semi-final
  • They return to Wembley for the first time in four months following the lockdown
  • While they have been gone we have learnt a lot about football without fans
  • Sportsmail’s James Sharpe has revealed the 10 thing we have learnt this year 

Spectators are back for football for the first time for four months with 4,000 attending Monday’s Wembley FA Cup semi-final between Leicester and Southampton. 

Their attendance will mark the biggest gathering in football since the country were forced into lock down in March last year. 

While we’ve been missing the atmosphere of full grounds, we have learnt a few things about football without supporters.

Sportsmail’s James Sharpe has revealed the 10 thing we have learnt during these unprecedented times.  

4,000 spectators will attend Leicester and Southampton’s FA Cup semi-final on Monday 

No fans, no home advantage. No roaring you on when you’re in search of a winner. No cries of encouragement when you’re under the pump.

From the start of the 2016-17 season until the pandemic struck, home teams won 47 per cent of Premier League games. Away sides won just 30 per cent. Behind closed doors, it’s 39 per cent to 38.

Home teams have scored fewer goals than usual, more for away teams. Home teams now drop more points from winning positions and come from behind less. Away teams gain more points from losing positions and drop fewer points when in front.

So, fans really were the 12th man all along? Who knew.

Fans do make a difference as the number of goals scored at home dropped without them 

Liverpool not top without KOP

Some teams have suffered more than others. And then there’s Liverpool. The pandemic forced the champions to walk alone and turns out they aren’t very good at it.

Jurgen Klopp’s side won 22 straight games at Anfield before lockdown. In front of no fans, they’ve lost six in a row and drawn three among their 20.

Injuries have played their part, as has a style as intense as Klopp’s on a squad that’s been squeezed down to its last pip. Without the supporters cheering them on, it’s tough to run on empty.

 Liverpool have struggled during the 2020-2021 season without the support of their fans

Silence can be golden 

Others have basked in the freedom of silent serenity. How enjoyable it must have been for David Moyes to mould West Ham team from relegation scrappers into top-four contenders without sections of fans booing every misplaced pass.

They lost six of 11league home games before lockdown. They’ve lost five in 21 since. Maybe having 10,000 fans back for the final home game is not so positive after all.

David Moyes’ West Ham side have basked in the freedom of silent serenity this season

Refs don’t miss the fans…

Fans affect players. They affect referees too.

Officials may not think they are influenced by a baying mob at Old Trafford when Bruno Fernandes feints inside the penalty area. But they are because referees are human too.

Since football returned behind closed doors, referees have awarded away sides more penalties than home teams.

In three-and-a-half seasons before the turnstiles closed, home teams led the way by more than 50 spot-kicks. Away teams are now shown vastly fewer yellow cards.

With football being behind closed doors, referees have awarded away sides more penalties

But their slips are showing

No crowd noise means we can now hear exactly how much abuse officials receive.

Whether it’s Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie politely asking the linesman ‘how have you given that, ya wee d**k?’ or Lee Mason being called a ‘f***ing joke’ after he disallowed, then awarded, then disallowed again Lewis Dunk’s goal for Brighton against West Brom.

When Mike Dean booked Leicester defender James Justin against Everton, Kasper Schmeichel shouted upfield: ‘You’re better than this, Mike!’

We’re not sure about that.

Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie asked the linesman ‘how have you given that, ya wee d**k?’

That’s mine, Lacazette!

Alexandre Lacazette screams loudly. Too loudly.

His reaction to being fouled by Burnley defender Erik Pieters made it sound like he’d trodden on a landmine.

We’d probably still have heard it had there been a full crowd at Turf Moor. There were plenty of rolls thrown in for good measure too. Game’s gone, as they say.

Match of the Day pundits Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Dion Dublin joked that he’d broken the world record. At least Arsenal will have won something this season if the Europa League goes to pot.

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette screamed loudly after being fouled by Burnley’s Erik Pieters

Frankly, blue is the colour

If you want real drama, forget the fans, just turn the microphones up and point them at the managers in the technical areas.

While that will always be box office viewing — it is especially the case when it’s Jurgen Klopp and Frank Lampard.

The former Chelsea boss was so furious at a free-kick being given that he confronted one of Klopp’s assistants only for the Liverpool manager to get involved.

Lampard responded: ‘You can f*** off and all. You think you can give it the big one, f*** off. Tell them to have respect, sit down.’

If you want drama, forget fans, just turn the microphones up and point them at the managers

Not exactly Shakespeare

It’s not always opposing benches that collide. Sometimes, it’s team-mates. And no fans means we hear every word.

Just like when Manchester United captain Harry Maguire expressed frustration that team-mate Marcus Rashford kept getting caught offside against Crystal Palace.

‘What the f*** do you want me to do,’ asked Rashford. ‘F*****g get back onside,’ Maguire replied. Rashford did not take the advice too well. His response: ‘Shut the f*** up, f*****g kn**head.’

Harry Maguire expressed frustration that team-mate Rashford kept getting caught offside

Rob’s bog standard

Not only does Rob Holding hate giving free-kicks away, he also uses the language of a man born in the 1940s. 

After the Arsenal defender was adjudged to have fouled Wolves winger Adama Traore, Holding turned to Michael Oliver and exclaimed: ‘How’s he gone down like that, he’s built like a brick s***house’.

Not only does Holding hate giving free-kicks away, he also uses the language from the 1940s

No sound, no fury

No matter how much canned cheering you dub over the top of it, regardless of the relentless build-up and the reality of what’s at stake, Premier League football in empty stadiums is not a spectacle, it is a soulless experience. It’s just an echo. No atmosphere, no joy. Just business. 

That’s not what football is about nor what it should be. It’s about the cheers and groans, ecstasy and despair and the emotions we share. That can only happen with fans.




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