The German Bundesliga on Saturday and Sunday became the first major European league to resume playing after a two-month coronavirus lockdown.
Matches were played without fans while goal celebrations were banned and benches observed social distancing.
AFP Sport looks at the reaction:
“It felt a bit like the atmosphere you get for old man’s football, 7 pm, under floodlights, but as soon as the ball started to roll, the game took our focus,” said Bayern Munich star Thomas Muller on the empty ground at Union Berlin where the champions won 2-0 on Sunday.
“I apologise for putting my hands on his face. But it wasn’t a kiss or a celebration. I was giving him instructions about a set-piece,” Hertha Berlin defender Dedryck Boyata said on his up-close encounter with Marko Grujic during the 3-0 win over Hoffenheim. A senior German politician had criticised players for breaching the league’s strict hygiene protocol.
“We don’t want to simulate normality where there is no normality,” were the words of Union Berlin club spokesman Christian Arbeit on the refusal to hang supporters’ banners or make public service announcements.
“It was like street football, a huge game for us,” Mainz sports director Rouven Schroeder reacted after his team came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Cologne.
“Without you, it’s all worthless! Football lives through its fans!” Banners displayed at second-division St Pauli before their game with Nuremberg as a protest against ‘ghost games’.
“There is something surreal about it. In the two hours before the match, you receive text messages from all over the world, people who tell you that they are going to watch the match on TV, and then you drive through your city and there is absolutely nothing happening. You have to get used to it,” said Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke after his team’s 4-0 win over local rivals Schalke.
“There is no noise, you shoot at the goal, you make a great pass, you score, and nothing happens, it’s very, very weird,” Dortmund coach Lucien Favre said.
“We had many conversations beforehand and knew that it was actually nothing more than like the games we used to play as children: without anyone watching and just having fun. The result just now also makes people happy who are watching in front of the TV,” said Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Buerki
“Not necessarily for the players, who may have to buy one less Lamborghini, but for the economy that depends on it – the coaches, ground staff, fan shops. On a match day, some shops, including fast-food stands, rake in revenues equivalent to that of a normal week,” long-standing Dortmund supporter Marco Perz on why it was crucial the German season restarted.
Freiburg coach Christian Streich said, “For us, the situation is not really new. We have already been training in empty stadiums. Also as a coach, I have trained youth teams in the past and I always heard myself shouting. We are just as happy to be able to go back to our work as the cook who prepares a good meal again. We are just as happy as anyone else who tries to do creative things.”
“It wasn’t easy without the same push that you usually get when 50,000 are in the stands. You have to somehow motivate yourself when you come into an empty stadium. We did it pretty well and got the tension up. It was unfamiliar to everyone and it will remain unfamiliar to everyone for a while,” said Freiburg defender Robin Koch.
“The day was a bit odd. I am an emotional man, I like to take a player in my arms, which I obviously couldn’t do today,” said Uwe Rosler, the coach of Duesseldorf