In May 2019, Liverpool walked out onto the pitch at Anfield, trailing Lionel Messi’s Barcelona by 3 goals in the first leg. The odds were stacked against them, the task seemingly impossible for any team, regardless of their quality. Liverpool, however, walked out with a perfect cocktail of elements, ready to turn this Champions League semi-final on its head. They had the quality in the squad, they had the game-plan, they had the strategy and they had the fans.
One of football’s oldest clichés is how the crowd act as a twelfth man, giving the team that extra boost of energy and motivation. This night at Anfield, the crowd was more like another starting eleven. They were utterly relentless, the noise from the moment the players exited the tunnel was deafening. The game at times felt more like a pantomime than a game of football. Barcelona were the villains of the piece, and every time they got the ball the stadium was filled with boos and jeers, and every time they lost it, there was an eruption of jubilation, as if a goal had just been scored.
The noise in the stadium never dropped, the intensity stayed throughout, creating an atmosphere that elevated Liverpool and demotivated the opposition. You could see, every time Barcelona got the ball they were intimidated, they were scared. Whilst the team can obviously take a huge amount of credit for the result, so can the fans. That night was a storm in a tea cup moment which would not have been possible without them.
Liverpool have gone on to win the English Premier League for the first time in thirty years. A magnificent achievement, but none of the fans were there to see it
Cutting back to 2020, Liverpool have gone on to win the English Premier League for the first time in thirty years. A magnificent achievement, but none of the fans were there to see it. Their form was indifferent since they returned from the break in play that Covid-19 had enforced upon the footballing calendar, especially after winning the title. You do have to wonder, if having the crowds there to hold them accountable for their performances would have seen them break Manchester City’s total points record, rather than taking their foot off the gas as they did.
Fans’ absences in football grounds across the country, and in fact across the world, has been deeply felt. It is not just title winning teams that feel the loss of their fans when they lift a trophy to an empty stadium. Home advantage is built on the idea of being in comfortable surroundings, and having thousands of fans cheering you on. There are no teams that benefit from that more than the teams that are fighting relegation. An argument can be made that the teams that were relegated this season – Norwich, Watford, and Bournemouth – may have seen a different outcome to their season if circumstances had been different. The counter argument is that a team that can stay up without fans to give them an edge over their opponents is probably more deserving of staying up anyway.
Regardless of home advantages, the spectacle of a match day is a simple shell of its former self. Whether you are a fan in attendance or watching on the TV, hearing the crowd literally makes the atmosphere. The applause, the jeering, the singing, and probably the most notable, the celebrating. Hearing the net ripple when a goal is scored was a brand-new experience, as is being able to hear the managers and coaches screaming at their players from the touchline, in all its expletive-filled glory. The managers have probably benefited from having that level of micro, man management at their disposal, but would they trade it for having thousands of fans spurring their players on? Probably not.
The Covid-19 football world has shown us the lengths that we must go to in order to have football back, and most importantly the lengths to keep all players, fans and staff as safe as possible. It has also shown us a world without fans and it is both bleak and hollow. Fans are without a doubt the beating heart of every football club, they outlive the tenures of the players, the managers and even the owners – they are there for life. They bring passion and voice to match days, and create a spectacle that TV stations thrive off, and pay millions of pounds to broadcast. The pandemic has shown us it is possible to play football matches without the fans, but it has also shown us, football doesn’t mean as much when they are not there.
Words by Billy Clarke | Featured image by Khusen Rustamov & Liverpool by anwo00