Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Football without fans is nothing

We were at the point where we only wanted to starve our rivals of oxygen, of their dreams, and induce their nightmares. It did and does feel petty. It felt petty on Friday, March 13th 2020 when the authorities announced a suspension to all things football for the foreseeable future. It is petty even without COVID-19 as part of being a fan is wanting to starve rivals of dreams, oxygen and induce nightmares, but that is the nature of the rivalry.  
 
Since Friday, what we have seen is a bitter mutation of this nature and those who are blinkered and weighed down by self-interest are now voices of reason who offer seemingly well-balanced arguments. We have a situation where some are celebrating a global pandemic as it stops their football teams looking less bad. Now, that is some universe-sized pettiness and warped Brexit-type thinking. These are the ones stockpiling food they never eat.        

The lack of action, the confusion and indecisiveness, are solely down to financial consequences that this situation brings. That is my uninformed view but it’s a view that has been cynically cultivated by years of watching football and governments putting money first. That the SFA is now saying that their preference is to finish the season says to me that this is the only outcome that won’t cost millions. It should be the only option on the table.

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When we are watching it, how we are watching and what we are watching is still to be defined. The future is not yet written but who could be the casualties of this future are already plain to see. It’s the everyman and women that make the game what it is.  
 
I watched Juventus against Inter Milan the other week, which was played in an empty Juventus Stadium. All 41,507 white, yellow and black seats empty. The empty stands patrolled by yellow-jacketed stewards. Ball boys in purple bibs seemingly hiding behind advertising boards that will never cease no matter the crisis.  
 
Hearing the players shouting at each other was a jolt to the ears. Like hearing the noise that you believe the sun makes. That novelty wore off quickly. Just as I would suspect that the noise of a big ball of gas would. The sound of Antonio Conte, the poster boy of hair transplants, berating his players like a hyperactive Sunday morning touchline father, rather than a top-class coach, was disheartening. It became a soulless void of millionaires just kicking a ball about. When Aaron Ramsey scored a goal fitting for a public park, the near silence that greeted the goal seemed to suit.
 
But, when Paulo Dybala takes a pass at the edge of the box, controlling the ball velcro-like, his next touch sending a defender for a ticket and then his third touch prodding the ball into the goal – and all touches have been with his left foot – then the lack of fans going utterly bonkers at the genius and the enormity of the goal is just wrong. It’s just a good footballer doing the things that good footballers do. The players enjoyed it. They piled on for both goals. They still have that professional sportsman spirit. Of doing their job, getting the rewards and being the best they can be. I can’t speak for Dybala but I’m sure he wishes that there were 40,000 Juventus fans there to see his goal. There to film their celebrations. There to remember that moment.
 
The saying is true – Football without fans is nothing. It loses its emotional uncertainty without fans. Becomes a nothing where the talented should will out. We lost against FC Copenhagen as the players got caught up in the tension and then got swept away by the emotion coming from the stands. It loses the ability for the crowd to raise the performance and adrenaline of their side to pull off remarkable results. It also loses the ability to make a team cower in fear of their own support where they become scared to get the ball, scared to take risks, scared to make that mistake.
 
It’s this factor, that unmeasurable factor, that Rangers seem to have used to destroy one of the greatest games in world football. A game that had already changed beyond the wildest imaginations in 2012. Rangers’ decision to cut our allocation to 800 seems to be on the basis of them turning their ground into a gravel pit of one-sidedness to make it more likely to get a result. They will point to their record since as proof that their pettiness was correct.
 
You watch other derbies over the world and they were unlike The Glasgow Derby. An encounter that flashed the city’s differences proudly and in large colourful numbers. That has gone. It is now just another derby where the minuscule away support has very little chance of cheering their team to victory or inspiring them to get off the canvas. The emotion is all one-sided and that is not healthy.  
 
As are games without emotion from the stands, no matter how many or how few.
 
The thought of playing games behind closed doors is tough to take. As is the thought being awarded a league title without having a final whistle or game to celebrate it. Clubs are losing money and the people who help these clubs run are losing their jobs. When we return to whatever is the new normal we will need football after months and months of isolation and grimness. The return will be a celebration and shouldn’t be with any bitterness or recrimination, as we will have enough of that to fire never-ending Molotov cocktails at those who run the country.
 
For that to happen, it needs fans and it needs clubs and it needs to finish what we started whenever that may be. The stakeholders in the game have one job and that is to ensure that happens.  
 
Kevin Graham

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