Sky Sports presenter and talkSPORT's new breakfast host Laura Woods delivers her latest column, focusing on the return of the Bundesliga, why she thinks it showed artificial crowd noise is the way to go for behind-closed-doors matches, and supporting Paderborn.
The nation woke up on Saturday morning with that familiar feeling bubbling in our bellies, as we prepared to feign interest in a league most of us barely follow.
Football was back. Proper football. So, starved of our own excitement we appropriated our European neighbour’s top flight, packed our proverbial bags and jumped on the German bandwagon.
We used flowcharts to pledge our allegiance to teams we’d never watched, using probing questions like: “Is your life a shambles?” Then Cologne would be for you.
We dusted off that one bier stein we stole from Winter Wonderland in 2015.
And we swatted up on the state of the Bundesliga, in that conceited, forensic fashion to attempt to convince our mates that Borussia Mönchengladbach registering just one clean sheet in their last nine on the road was just a piece of information pulled out of your arse.
To kick it all off the Germans laid on a very decent derby (cheers guys). Dortmund v Schalke, with former Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner patrolling the touchline and reminding us all how much we miss that wonderful, bearded man over here.
It was the game the world was watching.
Maybe the anticipation took over, leading us all to a dramatic, but inevitable anticlimax.
It was no secret this game, and all games, would be played behind closed doors. But it still didn’t prepare us for the chasm that silence created in the viewing experience. A game so familiar to the world, was suddenly unrecognisable in many ways.
The sound of the stadium announcer echoed around an empty Signal Iduna Park as the players made their way out onto the pitch. They practised their superstitions and signalled their usual prayers to the sky.
There were smiles on their faces, like it felt good to be back, even in this capacity. The subs bench was a little different too, spread out two metres apart in face masks along the touchline.
Back in England an oversized Owen Hargreaves watched over the BT Sport studio like an evil emperor on a giant screen - or Zordon from Power Rangers, as one Twitter user pointed out.
Via Zoom from his lounge he said something that resonated with all of us: “Football without fans is hard to watch.”
And he was right.
It was a bit awkward, wasn’t it? Like when you’re at a party that’s just started and your uncle gets up prematurely to dance and tries to get everyone else to join him. But no one wants to, because the music isn’t loud enough, the lights aren’t low enough, we’re not pissed yet and just f**k off will you?
Erling Haaland opened the scoring, giving us our first goal of the day across the six top-flight games in action and the first goal in professional football for months (unless you’ve been fixed to the Belarusian Premier League.)
With celebrations banned Haaland’s reaction was a muted dance, his team-mates watching on at a suitable distance. No cheers from the stands, but a real goal in a real football match, nonetheless.
Three more completed Dortmund’s demolition of Schalke and that was that.
Elsewhere my newly-adopted Paderborn disregarded the flowchart’s promise of "sexy football" with an “all guns blaring approach” and played out a 0-0 draw with relegation rivals Fortuna Dusseldorf, which quite frankly will do us no favours in our bid for survival and means we’ll stay well and truly rock bottom for the time being.
It’s exhausting being embroiled in basement scrap, it really is.
I mentioned on Twitter that football as we know it, for the time being, sounded like a five-a-side game in a local sports hall. As expected the classics came out with one user commenting: “Just like a Manchester City home game”. But it did remind me of a visit I made to the Etihad last season.
The stadium was completely empty and quite peaceful, with the lamps out on the grass to keep it in peak condition. I sat with the producer and cameraman as we waited for the player to arrive for an interview. Kit set up, questions memorised, ready to go.
The silence was suddenly filled with a low level crowd noise. We could all hear it. It was quite eery, an empty stadium, midweek, but the low flow of a match-day atmosphere being pumped into the ground isn't actually sinister at all.
It’s for VAR, to test whether the referees can communicate with each other over the noise of a live game. You can understand how an urban myth might be born here.
The reason I bring it up is because I have now found myself in the camp of the artificial crowd sound enthusiasts. It wasn’t spurred on by my memories of the Etihad that day, it was actually after seeing a tweet from a colleague of mine who did a DIY job on the Bundesliga.
He found a YouTube clip called: “Stadium Crowd Sound Effects…Cheering, Applause and More” and played it alongside the Dortmund v Schalke game, marvellously taking the edge off an otherwise awkward experience.
Like downing a Jäger bomb before a first date, making it instantly more palatable.
On the more serious side of things the world wasn’t just watching and dissecting because it misses football. It was watching because Germany are in many ways the guinea pigs. Every success in the Bundesliga's first weekend back will inevitably encourage our Government, the Premier League and UEFA that football in this country may resume sooner rather than later.
Whether you think the driving force is to boost morale or purely economics, what was offered and observed this weekend was a window into possibility.
And until we reach a stage where it is safe to do so, all eyes will remain on the Bundesliga.
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