AN ODE TO THE FANS.
Join us as we travel through the concrete jungle that is deep suburbia. We journey through winding cul-de-sacs of back to back dwellings until we reach our destination. Now, hush. Approach cautiously up the driveway and observe, in all his glory, the armchair fan.
A peculiar creature, he exists in a perpetual state of self loathing and self loving, preferring the HD view and constant, droning analysis to a view from the stands. He complains about some of the commentary but he LOVES everything about televised football, the punditry, the interviews, everything. He keeps a close, twitchy eye on proceedings, periodically checking his overdrawn betting account with one hand clutching his smart phone and utilising the other to glug his warm can of Carling.
Is this football? Is this the dystopian future that we now live in?
In many ways, lockdown football is an armchair fans greatest fantasy fulfilled. He now sits, glued to his couch fibres and fixated on a spiralling, slippery slope of tedium, culminating in watching hours and hours of Belarusian and South Korean football courtesy of his dodgy firestick.
All of a sudden, bang! The Bundesliga is back. He’s temporarily thrilled. He can now read the names on the back of the kits. Weeks of online Korean lessons were in vain but alas, he can now do some revision and pretend to be a Bundesliga expert for the next few weeks.
The league reopens with a Revierderby, usually a feisty affair between Bundesliga mainstays Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04.
Dortmund’s lineup is star studded. Erling Braut Hauland leads the line for them, supported by the likes of Thorgan Hazard, Julian Brandt and Jadon Sancho, some of the European games brightest emerging talents. Dortmund have quality coursing through their team and it shows as they dismantle Schalke four-nil. Schalke’s form pre-COVID-19 has been particularly poor. Prior to the league’s hiatus in mid-March they hadn’t won since a January home victory over Moenchengladbach. Following the Bundesliga restart, they are yet to register a win in the next five matches, ahead of an away fixture at high-flying Leverkusen. The omens don’t look particularly positive for David Wagner.
One of the key talking points here, however, isn’t the talent gracing the pitch or the tactical battle of wits on show. In fact the looming elephant in the room is present at all other Bundesliga fixtures that weekend. Every armchair fan - both those new and seasoned - are all talking about one thing. And that thing is nothing. The void of silence, the absence of noise that engulfs every Bundesliga stadium. The absence of fanatical fervour that usually flock the terraces of Germany’s football stadia, is on everybody’s lips.
You can hear the ping of every cross field ball, every shout from the dugout and the flutter of every corner flag in the Bundesliga breeze.
What you can’t hear is the very essence of football. The fans. And it’s a great reminder to us that football, without its fans, is absolutely nothing. Even the armchair fan, resolute in his ways, feels empty watching. Some people would argue its benefits. The ability to hear the tactical instructions, the on-pitch conversations, all bringing a new dynamic to proceedings. But this is people we’re talking about. As Peep Show’s Super Hans rightly pointed out, “you can’t trust people. People voted for the Nazis and like Coldplay.” So very true.
The fans and team work in poetic tandem. The fans can lift the team and the team can lift the fans. They can instigate a momentum shift in the game. It’s a perfect example of the communal passion that can exist between people, from all different backgrounds, united in common cause. Without the fans there is no passion. No soul. Where is the intrinsic link between the club and the community and the club if the fans aren’t in the stadium?
We love football because it’s man made. It’s a projection of our hopes and dreams, of our lives and aspirations. We believe in it because it exists and it exists because we believe in it. It’s like the economy or organised religion. Football needs its fans and the fans need football. As the game has globalised and clubs have morphed into financial institutions, the fans have borne the brunt of inflating ticket prices, inflating travel costs and overall under-appreciation from the powers who run the game. May this be a reminder of their indelible importance. The very reason the game exists is because of and for those fans in the stands.
This shouldn’t sway from the fact that the season must be finished in order for the long-term continuity and for the integrity of the game to be upheld. There’s no doubting that. We should just use this period to reflect, improve and appreciate what we have. Hopefully, when the fans are back and the stands are full, football will appreciate them more than ever. A match without supporters bears no logic. And I repeat, for effect, football without the fans, is nothing.