The joy of seeing crowds back in football stadiums

Although the 2020-21 Premier League season is now winding down, the campaign has finished on something of a high, thanks to the return of spectators to stadiums throughout the country. We’ve become all too used to high-level football being held behind closed doors, but to see fans return to Premier League grounds has been a sight for sore eyes, and a signal that there are better times to come next season.

It’s fair to say that fan presence at grounds is something we had taken for granted before the coronavirus pandemic gripped the world. While the leagues have soldiered on in spite of their absence, there has been a dearth of atmosphere, and the Premier League simply hasn’t been the same spectacle without thousands of supporters cheering their teams on.

There have been some freak results in the time since supporters were forced out of grounds, and the betting options have been incredibly difficult, with no real discernible home advantage. Teams who rely on their vociferous home support — the likes of Liverpool, Sheffield United and Burnley — have often looked toothless at home, with no impetus from the roaring masses.

Although the numbers inside Premier League stadiums has been significantly limited, it’s been incredible how different the atmosphere of matches has been. You can sense how players act differently with a crowd present, and it’s led to some cracking matches at the end of the season, and a boost of morale for the teams who boast home support.

The best occasion of all was the FA Cup final, where over 20,000 Leicester City and Chelsea fans made it a match to remember at Wembley. Although the thought of 20,000 fans in a 90,000-capacity stadium would have seemed like nothing before the pandemic, the roar of the crowd when Youri Tielemans fired in Leicester’s winner felt like a million voices. Leicester overcame the odds and the betting tips to win that final, and you can’t deny that their fans played a huge role in that success.

The return of fans to stadiums is made even more significant by the European Super League plot, which brought about a collective effort among supporters up and down the country. After a year in which they had not been able to make their voices heard in stadiums, the response to the Super League plans demonstrated the collective energy that still resides within football fans up and down the land — something that billionaire owners will not forget in a hurry.

Most importantly, fans coming back, even in a limited capacity, gives a sign of the good times to come, when full capacity crowds will cram into stadiums as football returns to full normality in the near future. There have been so many sounds that we’ve missed — the ironic cheers as a goalkeeper shanks a clearance, the roars of encouragement as the home team wins an attacking corner, and of course, the unified voices of thousands cheering the sight of the ball hitting the back of the net.

Football has not been the same during the last 12 months or so — a wandering husk of a sport trudging on despite the fact that all that makes it so appealing was missing. Although the domestic season is drawing to a close, the return of supporters in recent weeks has whetted the appetite of football fans for next season already.

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