Football in England in lockdown March 2021


Football in England in lockdown. March 2021.

How has football changed during the covid pandemic? 

With fans unable to watch from inside the stadiums the experience for everyone is radically different from the previous 150 years.

Hopefully, this scenario will be unique or at least a once-in-a-lifetime event for most of us.

But what has changed?


Less home advantage.


Historically some top levels teams have clearly benefited from exceptional home support.

The Premier League (EPL) champions Liverpool are one that typically comes to mind.

Particularly when they’re playing an important league or European encounter.

And so many would not be surprised that the lack of home fans at Anfield has contributed to their incredible run of losing home games. 

In a very competitive league like the EPL small margins can make a significant difference so switches in momentum and pressure can often be the difference between winning and losing.

That impetus can clearly be enhanced and inspired by crowd participation.

Hence without fans in the stadiums, something is definitely missing, especially for the home team who would normally be expected to take the initiative. 

And it is interesting to note that Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals, Everton, as well Manchester United and Leicester among the current leading teams, have all significantly better away records. 

This statistic is even more pronounced in Ligue 1 in France where seven out of the top ten sides have better away than home performances.

The effect of empty stadiums has caused the usual home advantage often to be nullified.


The fan experience.


This pandemic has caused the early demise of thousands and disrupted the lives of numerous people and their families.

So it might seem somewhat trivial to mention the inability of football fans to get their normal fix of entertainment.

But for many watching their local or favourite team features is prominent both socially and as a  contributor to their mental well-being.

Alongside the specialist ‘groundhopper’ types a gap has appeared for such supporters (some of whom had not missed a game for years) that is unlikely to be fulfilled by watching via streaming or similar services. 

Because the match experience is not just the ninety minutes or so duration of a contest.

It includes travelling to the game, mingling with others, possibly time in the pub or cafe, the build-up beforehand, and the post-match analysis. 

Sitting at home, often alone, in front of a screen can’t be the same. 

Whenever some limited numbers have been allowed into stadiums it is very evident the difference fans can make.

And there is undoubtedly a pent-up demand from supporters eagerly anticipating the return to normality. 

Exactly how that will manifest itself is unclear as on one hand many will be gagging to watch a live game but perhaps there will also be some (hit hard by the lockdowns) who will balk at paying for pricey season tickets and stick to the comfort of the couch and the TV.

Maybe in combination with watching their local non-league team.

For the fortunate few, journalists or scouts, who have watched live matches it can be soulless and often worse in the larger stadiums where the mass of support is so obviously missing.

To hear the tactical input and imploring of the coaches is a slight compensation.

Years ago some were speculating what it would be like with blanket TV coverage and with fans watching from bars or their homes.

Now we know how bad it is.


Financial impact.


Generally, you can predict who will challenge for the EPL title based on finance.

And that hasn’t changed this season with the affluent Manchester clubs often in the top two places.

In an especially attritional campaign, it is the well-resourced and extensively talented Manchester City side that will win the title. 

These light blues have not suffered as many as some from the ‘lockdown blues’. 

Though the lack of gameday income will be a factor all the elites can still benefit from the substantial TV revenue.

That of course, doesn’t apply to those further down the domestic pyramid.

Who have been having to get grants or loans in order to survive.

But those at the grassroots who do come through this hiatus might well gain more fans, especially those who have backed away from the costs of attending the EPL.

Some may well realise that the product is not so much different and in many cases much better value.

A relaxed stroll around a friendly non-league ground, a short queue for a cup of tea, and a comfortable chat with some like-minded souls does have its appeal. 

But one thing for sure is that football will remain the dominant sport in the UK (and in most other countries) and that won’t change whatever plagues might come to pass. 


Analysis - John Bethell


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