'Ghost Games' a taste of what's to come for few months

'Ghost Games' a taste of what's to come for few months

One observer likened football being played behind closed doors to "going to a nightclub without any music, or a pub with no beer," but the Bundesliga restarted the season last weekend in an effective and trouble-free manner, despite the eerie lack of atmosphere in the empty stadiums.

It's obviously not ideal, but these so-called Geisterspiele (Ghost Games), are a taste of what football fans will be facing for the next few months until the coronavirus can be overcome. Even the match balls were doused in disinfectant.

For most fans, it was just a relief to see on television a competitive game of football being played, even though it seemed odd hearing the footballers' voices echoing around the stadium.

It was fortunate that the highlighted match last Saturday was the Revierderby between Dortmund and Schalke, the two main clubs in the Ruhr region.

Dortmund are one of the best teams in the league and confirmed it with a fine showing, overwhelming their rivals 4-0 by playing some attractive football.

Some of the Schalke players looked a bit rusty, which might explain why they used all five substitutes which are available under the new rules.

You could temporarily -- but only temporarily -- be tempted to forget that they were not playing in front of their usual raucous 80,000-strong crowd at their Westfalenstadion (Signal Iduna Park).

The strange silence which greeted the goals, apart from yells of delight from the Dortmund subs bench, was a quick reminder that these are not normal times.

The players strictly followed the rule of social distancing as witnessed by the awkwardness in goal celebrations.

In a classy gesture after the final whistle the Dortmund side turned to the empty terraces and clapped in an acknowledgement of the fans who could not attend.

The new regulations were generally adhered to in all the other games apart from the one involving Hertha Berlin who got a bit too friendly with one another after scoring their opening goal.

One refreshing outcome of the games was the absence of diving or players rolling about feigning injury.

The performances of the referees was also very high, no doubt partly influenced by the fact they did not have fans in the stadium screaming at every difficult decision.

Watching the events in Germany very closely were other European leagues which are hoping to restart, including the English Premier League and Spain's La Liga.

They will have been encouraged by how smoothly things went, although it was clear it required a lot of discipline from the players and clubs.

The Bundesliga has shown it can be done, but the Premier League still faces many hurdles as do clubs in the lower divisions in England.

There is still considerable nervousness that the government is not totally on top of Covid-19 and its handling of the situation has come under fire.

Several high profile players have admitted their health concerns.

An examination this week of 748 players and support staff from 20 English top flight clubs resulted in six testing positive, three from Watford.

This prevailing sense of uncertainty is a big problem as the clubs begin official training.

Adding to the pressure, Uefa has asked all European leagues to give a decision by Monday about how and when they plan to restart -- or maybe not restart.

Champions League and Europa fixtures have also to be considered.

The Dutch and French leagues have already declared an end to their season.

It's particularly difficult for the smaller clubs. Last week, League Two sides voted unanimously for the season to end with the current standings, apart from promotion play-offs.

This would mean Crewe Alexandra, Swindon and Plymouth would be automatically promoted.

The relegation issue was a bit more cloudy. It's primarily a matter of economics.

With little or no television money, unlike the Premier League, the clubs simply cannot afford to host matches behind closed doors.

Many are struggling anyway and they would not receive any revenue from hosting the games, while having to fork out money for testing the players.

The otherwise excellent English pyramid system also complicates matters in that what one division does in regards to promotion and relegation affects the other divisions.

Each club's attitude tends to reflect their league positions.

In the Championship, the two leaders, Leeds and West Bromwich Albion, will not complain if the season ends as it stands now, meaning precious automatic promotion.

Of course, the teams in and around play-off spots will have a very different view, believing they have a chance for promotion.

A classic example is in League One where Sunderland, desperate to get back into the Championship and currently in seventh place, are determined the games should be completed "on the pitch and not in a meeting room and certainly not in a courtroom."

At the time of writing, there's still an awful lot to be sorted out off the pitch before they can even think about playing again.

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