I think it’s fair to say that for the past twelve months, football has been a pretty strange affair. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, a three-month hiatus meant that last season went on for almost a year and didn’t end until 26th July, meaning that the current season didn’t start until the middle of September.
Since football’s recommencement last June, we’ve seen some strange results – Aston Villa 7 Liverpool 2 anyone? – and teams either under-performing or punching above their weight. And you can probably put this down to games being played out in empty stadia.
Clubs have faced many challenges since last June’s restart, but arguably the biggest has been that since the game’s recommencement and the duration of the current campaign, games have had to be played behind closed doors. Raucous atmospheres have been replaced with eerie silence punctuated with shouts from the benches and players celebrating goals. Towards the back end of last season it probably wasn’t so much of an issue, with both teams having to get used to a new normal. But this season, it has probably made a big difference.
Let’s take West Ham United and Sheffield United as examples – with the odds on the Blades getting relegated looking shorter and shorter each day with online-betting.jp
David Moyes wasn’t the most popular appointment when he returned for a second spell at the London Stadium, where the atmosphere has not been great since the Hammers’ move. Last season saw them embroiled in a relegation battle, with Moyes eventually steering them clear in the last few games. In this respect, an empty London Stadium probably helped Moyes and his team. The atmosphere at the Hammers’ new home has often worked against them, and so the enforced lockout will have provided them with the opportunity to play more freely. And you can argue that it’s certainly helped this season with Moyes’ team serious contenders for a Champions League spot, which will mean that when supporters can return, the London Stadium may well become a more inhospitable place for visiting teams.
At the other end of the spectrum, Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United have struggled badly since football restarted, and they’ve found themselves rock bottom of the Premier League for virtually the whole of this season, in contrast to the last campaign when they found themselves competing for a European place.
While the Hammers have seemingly thrived in their empty home – only runaway leaders Manchester City have a better home record – the Blades have struggled, and have the worst home record in the Premier League. This is in stark contrast to last season, when their respective home records reflected their final league positions.
There’s no doubt that everyone wants to see supporters packing out our country’s grounds once more, but for those clubs who have struggled at home, it can’t come soon enough.