THE novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is acting like a Hollywood villain, just when you think it’s done, it comes back from the dead for one more attack.
British PM, Boris Johnson’s announcement during the week that sports stadiums in the UK will have to remain empty for another six months to curtail the spread of the virus, was a blow to sports fans in Britain who believed that they were just weeks away from a return to live action in the home grounds of their beloved clubs.
I still find it difficult to come to terms with the idea that a huge stadium is deemed too dangerous to have a limited number of fans, spread out across the vast expanses, while I still face the weekly danger of the unmasked mouth-breather pressed up against me in the vegetable aisle of my local Aldi.
The extension of the stand-ban is a bit of a setback for those of us wishing to see a return to the real atmosphere on our TVs too, that can only come from having real fans and real reactions.
At the start of all this, I was happy enough to watch games with the piped-in crowd atmosphere as it seemed a better choice than the soulless vacuum offered by an empty 60,000-seater arena. But now it's like fingernails on the blackboard to me. Every unsynched hurrah or ooh from the virtual crowd is pure irritation to me now. The delay in the audio celebration after the ball hits the back of the net really grinds my gears now.
More pertinent though is the economic impact from not having matchday revenue will start to grow evermore perilous for the clubs as time goes on too.
The likes of Man United, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal and a few others can weather this for a while longer but as you go down the financial table the more important matchday revenues become to the club. The likes of Sheffield United and Burnley make up to 50% of their weekly income from the turnstiles and the subsequent merchandise sales on any given Saturday or Sunday.
Then there is the strange effect arising from not having your own fans present at home games. In the 18 Premier League matches played so far this season, 10 were won by the visiting side. Funnily enough, there has not been a drawn match so far either.
In a balanced scenario, with all thing being equal, over an unlimited amount of time, results will balance out to equal wins, home and away and draws. But real life doesn't work like that, where variables like weather, transport, internal issues/disputes, and most notably home crowds and atmosphere skew the results in favour of home wins. In a typical season, home wins occur in 45 to 50% of occasions, draws occur around 20 to 25% and away wins happen 30 to 35% of the time. In the small sample we have for this season, it is clear we are turning the stats on their head. Maybe things will swing back to normal over the season but I think the absence of fans is having a detrimental effect on home team performances, where the intimidation factor of the big-match atmosphere is no longer offers teams the 12th man.
This may be of benefit to lower placed sides who will now no longer have to face the walls of noise and hate when they arrive at their opponent's large venues. Of course, they will also be denied their own tribal support at home to bring them over the edge on those rare giant-killing nights that small clubs live off of for years to come.
The top six, and their unlimited supply of resources and talent should still see them overcome the lack of home support but it will be interesting to see if the big clubs can convert does niggly 0-0 all or 0-1 down games into home victories without the baying support of the home crowd.
There was an unlikely suggestion on the return of play last season that Liverpool's title win should have an asterisk next to their title as their final two wins happened in the strange world of the empty pandemic stadiums.
There is a much stronger argument for the asterisk on this season's winner.
*The first no home advantage winner of the Premier League.