Football’s coming back. Well, some of it anyway. But if it has a multi-billion broadcast deal and substantial amount of athletes on triple-figure-thousand weekly salaries – you best believe it’s coming back.
The stadia which houses the clubs of such football is also home to thousands of supporters every week – some 14.5m people during the 2018/19 Premier League season. The remaining games are set to be played with barely a smidge of last season’s average attendance present. And with some surprising score lines cropping up in the Bundesliga already, in which Borussia Dortmund are odds-on for a top-four spot according to Betway, the firm began investigating whether the 12th man really are difference-makers or just part of the furniture. A former England international gave them a helping hand.
“To go from playing in a full stadium to playing behind closed doors is eerie,” says former West Ham captain Alvin Martin.
“The atmosphere that you’re reliant on isn’t there and you can’t feed off the energy of the crowd.”
Martin’s got more big – empty stadium – game experience than you and I. The defender played in both legs of a 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup tie against Real Madrid’s reserve team Castilla. The first, a 3-1 loss at the Bernabeu, also hosted some unwarranted fan trouble, and Uefa subsequently prevented supporters from attending the return fixture.
“You could hear every word that was being said,” says Martin.
“In fact, we even got a knock on the dressing room door during our half-time team talk with John Lyall.
“It was one of the directors who had been sent down to ask if we could keep the industrial language to a minimum.”
Despite winning the game 5-1 to advance to the next round, Martin, of course, preferred the Boleyn Ground to be full on matchdays.
“Those big atmospheres help give you an extra five or 10 per cent that you can’t replicate in training,” says Martin.
“They make you nervous, which I think is a very healthy thing for a sportsperson. When you're nervous, that's when you perform your best.
“If you go in for a tackle and there's a crowd roaring for you and willing you to win it, I think inevitably it puts a little bit more onto you.”
A lift that many players are bound to miss in the weeks ahead, especially as the hectic almost-daily Premier League schedule starts to take its toll.
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