Celtic get set, Jock Stein’s ‘Football Without Fans’ took a new twist today in Germany

Far be it for me to contradict the words of Jock Stein. His quote ‘football without fans is nothing’ always resonated with me. Yet in this constantly changing footballing landscape I have to disagree – respectfully of course – Football without the fans isn’t quite nothing. In the absence of football, football without fans is just about as good as it gets.

The sound, sway and energy of supporters in a football stadium does indeed take football to another level, yet when you’ve been missing the beautiful game simply watching professional players exhibiting their art is a joy to watch.

I like many others starved of their footballing addiction tuned into the Bundesliga this afternoon, as they were the first league to return to competitive football after the Covid 19 shutdown.

When it comes to a nation renowned for their efficiency it shouldn’t be such a surprise that Germany would be the first country to return to action. That the first top flight head to head was the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 added to the anticipation.

A derby game would be tasty would it not? Or is it the fans that add to the appetite for such an encounter? Well yes as it turned out that was the case. The Westfalenstadion stadium was minus its yellow wall and there was no pocket of away fans lifting the opposition. In short it was a little bizarre to say the least.

The start seemed strange. 11 against 11 started off tentatively and there remained a feeling throughout that not all of the players seem as committed to the challenge as you’d have expected in a game of such magnitude.

There was an initial stand offishness certainly, though rustiness and uncertainty played its part. Yet the game itself was an entertaining encounter, though from a personal point of view, the first game I’ve witnessed in two months – without already knowing the outcome – was a big part of the attraction.

History will tell you Dortmund prevailed in their derby encounter by four goals to nil. It will tell you Dortmund striker and Norwegian import Erling Haaland scored the first goal and that Guerreiro was by far the best player on the park. Indeed his finish with the outside of the left foot that won the game was the moment I decided I was at odds with Jock Stein’s famous quote.

It was a genuine work of art that made me realise football is not just about the fans it is also about a meeting of both the supporters and the talent exhibited on the park, and that it really is possible to separate the two. For the time being anyway.

Is it something Scottish football could embrace in the absence of the real deal? Yes it certainly is.

Had this been Celtic I’d have been engrossed. How long that would last is anyone’s guess. However as a suitable spectacle it is as acceptable as anything could be without a crowd in the enforced absence of football supporters.

Would I have been so engrossed after two or three weeks of behind closed doors football? Of that I’m not so sure. Time will tell it is very much early days.

One thing is certain. As much as it was a strange experience watching footballers go head to head whilst the substitutes observed two metre social distancing, while at the same time sitting only a few yards from the action they were witnessing, was strange and probably unnecessary.

As substitutes watched with face masks adorned with club crests, defenders exchanged close contact combat via headed challenges and flying elbows, as social distancing was ignored. It was clear there is still a common sense balance to be found.

Coaches and players high fiving elbows as one party remember the restrictions and the other appeared a little slow to react is worth recording for prosperity. This is surely a work in progress as the constant contradictions made little sense.

One thing I did find was it was good for the soul. It was the same game we all witness, despite it being from a country we wouldn’t necessarily engage with on a week to week basis, and in a new footballing culture, alien to us all until today.

Yet if I was looking for a German team to adopt I felt a connection today. The moment the Dortmund players hailed the empty standing section that would normally hold the famous Yellow Wall was the moment that I realised that football may indeed be nothing without the fans, but that we can all find a way to enjoy what we have and wait for the moment we are all united with mutual respect. From a socially acceptable distance of course.

If this is what we end up having for the next 12 months, there’s enough to say we can embrace and possibly even enjoy football without fans until Covid 19 runs its course.

Fußball is back, I can’t wait for fitba to follow suit. It’s a strange old experience watching the beautiful game without fans, but it isn’t quite nothing. Sorry Mr Stein I must disagree, on first impressions at least.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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