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Football without fans is still football

Too many people are pushing a lie.

Villarreal CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

This isn’t a commentary on whether La Liga, or the Bundesliga, or the Premier League, or any other league should come back on any given timetable. That’s not what this is about. Whether it is safe, given the current pandemic, to have football in any form at all is a completely separate discussion than what I want to talk about here.

What I want to discuss is the phrase ‘football without fans isn’t football’. It’s nonsense, first of all, and second, it’s being weaponized in a way that I think is dangerous to the game. Here’s a tweet that shows an example of the mindset I’m talking about:

Now, let’s be abundantly clear, football is better with fans. The money that fans put into football is ultimately the reason why the corporate infrastructure of modern football exists, and therefore in that respect football needs fans, but a football match does not cease to be a football match just because there are no fans there. If six of us go to the park and play threes we have a football match. Part of the reason why football is the global game that it is rests on the idea that it’s so simple that all you need is something to kick and you can have football.

Neither is football, today, simply about those in the stands. Whether matchgoing fans like it or not, in the larger leagues around Europe, the stakeholders in football are in no way limited to those people who live in the community and show up on match day. We support a provincial club here at VUSA, but even our provincial club actively works with academies carrying its brand all over the world and has an entire department dedicated to engaging football outside of Spain. There are countless fans of clubs in the top five leagues who have never been to the stadium of their club yet are still legitimate stakeholders in the goings on of those clubs.

This fact is underlined by the financial reality of football. The folks who would have us have no live football until we can pack tens of thousands of fans into stadiums do not seem to realize that the very survival of clubs in the biggest leagues are at this point based on the revenue that comes in from tv contracts around the world. Would they have us shut everything down until clubs (particularly the smaller clubs) die out over the ‘principle’ of football needing fans present to be played? It’s not accident, I think that the major league with a 50+1 rule- and thus would apparently have the strongest connection to its fans- is one of the most proactive in resuming play. Those clubs desperately need the money of international stakeholders to survive.

We can all agree that football is brought to its best by having fans in the stadium. We can all agree that we look forward to the day when we can resume football rituals that have existed for decades with trips to pubs and groups of fans marching into the stands and chants and the roar of the crowd when a goal is scored. That’s the goal. No one wants to be without that a day longer than we have to. It’s not some corporate football conspiracy to try to kick local fans out of the game to try to keep revenue going in the sport during a once in a century pandemic.

For a lot of clubs in Europe, the normal everyday people who work for them are the ones who have been hit financially hardest by this pandemic. The quickest way to help those people is to get football back running in whatever format we can as soon as it is safe to do so.

Football is its most beautiful with fans in the stands, but it can still operate and function in extreme circumstances without them. If we’re going to support clubs who have international platforms, we need to recognize that the stakeholders for our clubs are people all over the world, and that the financial reality of those stakeholders it what now allows our clubs to survive. To reject the existence of football without fans out of hand over some strange philosophical angst against ‘modern football’ is foolish and dangerous to the game.