COVID19 vs. Fans

Over 4 billion years ago the planet was a giant, red-hot, boiling sea of molten rock – nothing more than a magma ocean. The heat generated by the repeated high speed collisions of much smaller bodies of space rock continually came together to form this planet we inhabit.

Granted, our world has witnessed a range of challenges over the years, not least two world wars. More topically the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 which is said to have infected 500 million people.

But the one thing about these periods of human disaster, whether war or disease, has been the ability of mankind to rebuild and restart.


Back in 2009 I made a visit to Japan and the city of Hiroshima.  One of my first points of call in the city was the spot where the US had dropped an atomic bomb in 1945; a bomb of such force that it killed thousands of people in the blink of an eye.   Hiroshima was left a charred wasteland with the US telling the world that nothing would grow or live in Hiroshima for 70 years.

But here I was just over 50 years later walking around in a city of smiling faces, modernity and brightness.  Vibrant and cosmopolitan its population embrace the sports of soccer and especially baseball.  

Later that night I went to see the local team Sanfreece Hiroshima play in the J-League but the one thing that got me thinking was the story of the immediate weeks after the bomb had dropped.

By the autumn of 1945 weeds had started to appear from the scorched earth in Hiroshima confounding the predictions of Dr Harold Jacobson the scientist from the Manhattan Project.  By the following spring flowers began to bloom and trees that were left frazzled by the heat sprouted now branches.

The Spanish Flu

Between 1918 and 1920 a Spanish flu pandemic swept across the world reeking havoc on life and organised football. 

It was 1919 before the Scottish Cup or FA Cup final were played again.

But between these years Europe was a society already weakened by wars.  Indeed, the outbreak is said to have originated in military field hospitals and been compounded by the fatigue of a population terribly impacted by war.

There are then huge differences between the pandemic of then and what we are experiencing now.  For one footballers were nowhere near as fit and active as those we know today with many footballers and thousands of fans being smokers.  Secondly, there was no NHS and almost every club lacked the medical expertise available to clubs today.

Thirdly, football crowd behaviour was hugely different in 1918 to how it is now.  Fans would be herded into stadiums with social distancing almost impossible given the expansive open terracing. 

Indeed, public gatherings due to the end of the great war were encouraged such as with the Armistice Day celebrations that occurred in the UK on 11th November 1918.  Theatres just like sports events were often seen as having healing potential; a venue of recuperation for people weakened by the hell of war and disease.

By the time the third wave of Spanish Flu ended in June 1919 the football authorities were eager for football to recommence.  By August 1919 crowds of up to 18,000 has returned to even the most regular of league fixtures.

So you read that right; just two months after a third wave of deadly flu football watching had returned and fans were welcomed back.

Football clubs in 1919 like any business needed the finances.

COVID19 – Football on the outside

To use modern allegory the pause button on a TV remote was pressed on organised football across Europe early March 2020. 

It seems unthinkable in these times of constant weekly TV football that domestic competition has been suspended for months.  This includes domestic cups, the UEFA Champions league and even the 2020 European Championships have been postponed until 2021.

Only in Belarus does football seem to have continued.

Football, once thought of as all seeing and all powerful, has shown how vulnerable it is to disease.  It has been forced to change its habits and our weekly obsession has been suspended.

But by late April 2020 we are seeing (just like people in Hiroshima did during 1945) the first green shoots of recovery. 

The German Bundesliga has announced that football will resume in May 2020 with Bundesliga matches scheduled to be held behind closed doors.

Stringent hygiene and testing is likely to be a prerequisite of play but the likelihood is that both Bundesliga I and II fixtures as well as the DFB Pokal will be played out this summer without any supporters watching.

Indeed other countries across Europe have said that some form of wohnzimmer Fußball (living room football) will happen.  The Austrian Bundesiga is also said to be about to resume during May or June with players from teams already in training.

But the fans will be missing – no tifo, no chanting, no encouragement from the stands.  All the colour gone – every seat empty.

The Future

The immediate future of football, whether it recommences in May or September 2020, seems to be that it will resume without watching and paying spectators inside the stadia.

For the time being the gates are locked.

It seems impossible to think about – every seat empty; no chanting; no flags; no screams of revulsion at referee decisions.  The stadia concourses empty and the pie stall oven switched off.

Football – a sport decisively influenced by the fans – regrettably will take place without spectators in attendence.

In football we experience many beautiful and glorious moments but also difficult times – in unison at this moment these traumatic times meet us all.  

As supporters we have all had times in life where we couldn’t get inside to watch either by way of being banned, locked out or ticketless. 

Looking in from the outside brings a sense of pain and this picture focus is dedicated to the silence of stadiums and the football fan looking on from the outside of the stadium as the action takes place inside.