The 21st of February, 2021 marked the anniversary of the first reported cases of Covid-19 in each country across Europe which initiated an excruciating period of lockdown and social distancing. This news came as an especially hard pill to swallow for football fans because it meant an immediate halt on all professional sporting activities; no more fans at stadiums, likely no Euro 2020 and Liverpool fans couldn’t rejoice their long awaited and dominant premier league trophy win. With no clear directive on the timeline of containment of this global pandemic, sporting authorities were starting to bleed cash. Smaller clubs were on the verge of bankruptcy while, larger clubs had to make adjustment to the salaries. Even Barcelona FC had to make promises to players to pay their salaries at later date with some interest during this stagnant revenue period.
After months of deliberation, football authorities started to come up with the best solutions to bring back sporting activities despite the turbulent conditions. Bundesliga was the first league to be back up and running, the Deutsche Fußball liga (DFL) governing body set up the idea of a bubble with daily testing of players and staff along with clear mandates to be followed during the season. This framework worked out very well, the season was restarted albeit some hiccups on the way due to human error.
Some clubs across Europe also started experimented allowing fans into the stadium last season. The Bundesliga allowed 20% of stadium capacity in cities like Dortmund, Wolfsburg, Bremen but, due to varied infection rates Munich and Berlin were not granted such privileges. Meanwhile in France and Italy, about 1000 fans were allowed during game day but, the lawmakers and the big leagues are still not certain the fans may completely return this season before the vaccine rollout (2020-2021).
Considering all these factors, another big question remains: How do the fans feel about this new epoch in football? It certainly can’t be fun watching your favorite clubs and players on the telly all the time, I mean you can’t even watch the game in a sports bar with your friends given the restrictions. The ambience at the stadium with the ever-passionate banner groups behind the goalposts banging the instruments, the ultras occupying the east and west stands singing songs and shouting those occasional insults and the global fans who come from far and wide to catch a glimpse of their stars makes every game that much more exciting.
Every season, the fans are also eager to look forward to the new additions that will improve their clubs. The top 5 leagues in Europe invested a total of £3 billion in the summer 2020 despite the drop in revenue, in comparison the previous transfer window saw £5.25 billion in investment. Fans are always critical of their club’s decision making, making their feelings known during games and most of the times the clubs listen to them as the fans are the significant make up of the club (as well as media).
Case in point, Chelsea Fans who were excited for the 2020-2021 season after their club invest upwards of £200 million in young talent with immense potential. The team which barely survived the top four finish last season under the tutelage of a Chelsea legend now had the look of a dynasty. After a phenomenal start to the season followed a string of bad losses and Chelsea fired their golden boy manager, Frank Lampard. This was a decision which can have repercussions on the minds of the fans about a club who refuse to give time to their manager, who are known for their revolving managerial door, who have now fired yet another manager (and a club legend no less).
Although, the owner of Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich, personally wrote a letter to the fans about the difficult decision to sack Lampard. London is home to many great football clubs. This decision in the current climate can create unease in the psychology of the fans and their outlook towards the club. Along with the fact that Manchester United’s decision to give Ole Gunnar Solskjær time to turn things around for the club despite the early exit from the champions league, a decision which is now bearing fruit could influence the fans.
Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN