Whilst I could not be prouder of how Aston Villa have conducted themselves throughout this tough period, Premier League officials continue to be blinded by money. The sport that we love is forgetting its core values with those in charge disregarding football’s true driving force—the fans. The League’s proposal to host games in unusual circumstances is for purely financial reasons, although Southampton’s CEO, when he spoke to the BBC, also stated that football “can give people entertainment” and show that the sport is “fighting back”. Speaking from experience of watching matches on TV with no crowd, the lack of atmosphere makes most games tedious and dull. Football without fans is simply not football. The resumption of the League with no fans or in potentially neutral venues will force players into performing essentially in completely new climates with no familiarity of home or normality, leading to unexpected results and ultimately an unfair ending to the season.
Fans play an indisputable role in football. The University of Naples conducted a study in 2014 showing a team scores around 0.45 more goals than their opponents and have a higher probability of winning outright where a side has greater support. The study also notes that the referee is more likely to decide in a team’s favour if their supporting crowd is larger and noisier. Despite footballers being the ones who can dictate play, the roar from supporters is a key component for a positive outcome. Furthermore, crowds can affect players’ state of mind and trigger emotions that positively or negatively affect performance. Journalist Joe Currie stated, “There’s nothing worse than an empty stadium”, which might be even be more distracting for the players than trying to win in a hostile environment.
Consider 27 May of last year, arguably one of the most important days for Aston Villa during this century. Only 90 minutes of football stood between potential promotion or another season of football in the Championship. With the playoff final held at the immense 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium, the importance of the fans during the course of that day was never more necessary, and many travelled long distances to support their team. Now imagine the final played behind closed doors, Wembley’s grand architecture soaring above the nervous players walking out not to an energetic or electric atmosphere but one that is silent, cold.
Aston Villa fans have one of the most passionate fan bases in the country and their support is heralded by many pundits, including former Villan Dion Dublin who praised the travelling Claret and Blue Army after Dean Smith’s side narrowly lost in this years’ Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. “They were 2-0 down and did not stop singing, and the players responded, and the manager responded.”
Despite flirting around the bottom half of the Premier League table for the majority of this season, Aston Villa’s fan base have been a major deciding factor in whether the team is able to pick up points. To play the remainder of the season behind closed doors is simply unfair for clubs such as Villa, who are struggling against relegation and whose fans could make the difference between staying up or going down.
In addition, forcing players to leave their loved ones behind during a time of worry to potentially give people “entertainment” is ridiculous. The official definition for entertainment is “the action of providing or being provided with amusement or enjoyment.” With no atmosphere and no sense of normality, the resumption of the 2019–20 Premier League campaign will not bring excitement but rather boredom, with matches essentially training sessions broadcast to millions of people.
The Premier League clubs are investing in Covid-19 testing kits, which can test one person every two and a half hours—and are something not even all frontline workers have access to. What will happen if a star player tests positive, or even one player—how long could the club be forbidden from playing? More crucially, whilst the government are trying to prevent a second peak of the deadly virus, should football really be a priority? More businesses in the UK are laying off staff as they start to run out of cash and struggle to access emergency coronavirus financial support from the government. Football is not the only profession that is struggling in this current climate.
My proposal to the Premier League is to simply void the season. Instead of seeking “entertainment” from matches at silent stadiums, wouldn’t it be far better contribute to your county’s effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading? From delivering living essentials to elderly relatives and neighbours or simply donating to charities that are helping those in need, every small act of kindness counts. Aston Villa have set an excellent example; the club foundation’s Villa Kitchen was expanded to produce up to 500 hot meals each week. Chief Executive Christian Purslow stated that local organisations will distribute them to those who need them most in society. In addition, first-team players, coaches and senior management will defer 25% of their salaries for four months to ease the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and allow the club to retain its non-playing staff. Despite facing many challenges over the years, the Villa faithful can feel reassured that the club’s officials are prioritising the health of fans and protecting vulnerable populations, whilst the Premier League continues to be driven by financial motives.