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The top two divisions of the German football league Bundesliga have returned to the playfield on May 16th. The teams had to observe a set of strict rules meant to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: the grandstands were empty, the players could only celebrate in an awkward, socially distant fashion… and there is a constant reminder of the fact that the pandemic is not yet over in the form of mandatory testing of the players, officials, and personnel looming above their heads.
Bundesliga returned to the stadiums and the TV screens, filling a big hole in the fans' hearts and souls. While most of them are happy about it, there are many for whom it's simply not the same.
It's not the same without the fans
"No one is ignoring the fact that we would prefer the fans to be there", Bundesliga CEO Robert Klein told Yahoo Sports after the first few matchdays. The lack of the cheering (or even booing) crowd that has become an integral part of the live sports experience is leaving a mark on the players, too. Bayern Munich vice-captain Thomas Müller jokingly described his experience at the Alte Försterei, usually packed with 22,000 fans, as "old man's football, 7 pm, under floodlights". But he revealed that, as soon as the ball started rolling, it became the focal point of the players' attention. "There were a few butterflies before the restart, wondering how it would go, like before the first game of the season in August", he said. "I wasn't worried about anything going wrong, everything was explained clearly to us."
Hugs, handshakes, and other forms of celebration involving contact among the players are strictly forbidden. But even without them, and without fans surrounding the turf.
It's much better than no football
The Bundesliga has suspended its season in mid-March to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. It was tardy in suspending its matches compared to other countries' top-flight football leagues, for which it received its share of criticism. Initially, the suspension of the games was planned to only last until the beginning of April but the public health situation in the country led to the suspension to be extended.
For months, European football was pretty much non-existent: Belarus was the only country that didn't give in to the virus, refusing to suspend its season. All major football leagues across the continent were tentatively planning to resume but it was hard to plan ahead not knowing how the public health crisis could evolve - and what measures their respective authorities would take. Now, in turn, that the first big wave of the epidemic seems to have passed, football will return in pretty much every country. While it will not be the same as before - fans will especially miss sitting at the grandstands - it's much better than no football, right?