As Sir Matt Busby famously said, ‘Football is nothing without fans’. This has never proved more true than today. Since early March this year, near-silent stadiums have hosted all football games at all levels. Some of the most eagerly followed and most-watched contests have been played in the absence of devoted fans. The beautiful game has battled on through the pandemic but with the sacrifice of one of its most important factors, the beloved supporters. It is now standard to flick on your TV and see vast swathes of empty seats impotently surrounding the pitch. Whilst clubs deal with the catastrophic financial implications of this, many other aspects of the games have been impacted.

The matchday atmosphere, whether it be a lunchtime kick-off at your local club, or a Champions League night at Old Trafford, is simply not the same. No sign of any burger vans now, or the out of tune chanting of excited fans. Areas around stadiums are deserted these days. The players, as a result, are not as hyped-up for the game, the coaches driving the teams through streets, once congested with swarms of people on the way to the battle ground, now travel through abandoned roads. But players want the crowds in the stadium. They want to feel the passion. Indeed, Zajonc’s drive theory suggest that elite players thrive in high arousal situations, feeding off the pressure of thousands of fans looking down on them, urging them on.

Empty stadiums are, however, hosting some very entertaining games. High scoring games and exhilarating upsets are becoming the new norm, including Leicester’s 5-2 victory at the Etihad, Manchester United’s 6-1 thrashing by Spurs at Old Trafford and Aston Villa’s annihilation of the reigning champions in a thrilling 7-2 trouncing. 26 more goals have been scored this season that last, after the same number of games played. This may well be due to the absence of supporters in the grounds. Pundits have put it down to the teams taking more of a ‘gung-ho’ approach to their play, being more open and expansive, leaving themselves exposed at the back. Are the players taking advantage of the lifted pressure normally exerted on the team by the supporters? Without the presence of fans, are we seeing more risks being taken in the absence of the instant onslaught normally dished out by the fans?

Possibly one of the less surprising impacts of empty stadia is that it has nullified homefield advantage. Without the overwhelming support that home fans give, it seems obvious that intimidating grounds like Anfield or Selhurst Park will be a little less impenetrable. From the beginning of the Premier League era up to the 2016/2017 season, home teams won 46% of games. This season a large decline has seen only 36% of home teams take away all three points. In the 6 weeks that the Bundesliga returned last season after the lockdown only 29% of home teams came out victorious in matches.

So, the show goes on - with or without spectators. Nothing is guaranteed; when, or even if, the gates will open again, allowing crowds to pour into stadia like they once did, but one thing is for certain; the fans are missed