From empty stands, to disinfected balls and a potential television audience of 1 billion people, the Bundesliga has enjoyed a chequered restart as the first major sports league to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Bundesliga had been suspended since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic
- A poll showed 56 per cent of Germans felt restarting the competition at this stage to be wrong
- Only 300 people, including players and coaches, were inside Dortmund’s home ground for its match with Schalke 04
German football’s top two divisions, suspended since mid-March due to the coronavirus, returned overnight with a schedule that included the Bundesliga’s showcase — the Ruhr valley derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 — as football-starved fans around the world tuned in to watch the live action.
Despite a possible global television audience of 1 billion as predicted by Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge — and the hope it gave other sports leagues — it was not what fans had been hoping for, with matches marred by scrappy performances.
The players were clearly lacking match practice, as they tried to adapt to the new conditions.
With a poll for German state broadcaster ARD showing 56 per cent of Germans consider restarting at this stage to be wrong, the league knows any violation of the agreed rules could lead to another suspension that may be financially fatal for some clubs.
Instead of an 81,000 crowd packing into Dortmund’s home ground, it was a mere 300 people in attendance.
This figure included the players, staff, team officials, broadcasters and security personnel as part of a strict health protocol.
Every shout, scream and thud of the ball bounced off the concrete stands and was picked up by the pitch-side microphones to create a haunting atmosphere, while goal celebrations in front of empty grandstands made for awkward scenes.
In Dortmund, the imposing standing tribune known as the Yellow Wall was empty, as the latest episode of the fiercest German football rivalry unfolded on the pitch with hosts Borussia crushing Schalke 4-0.
The matches sounded more like weekend kickabouts or high-intensity training sessions than the return to action of highly paid professionals in the world’s best-attended football league, which normally has an average of 42,000 spectators per fixture.
“Obviously, it’s sad the fans cannot watch the game, that we can’t meet up and go to the game and play this game together,” Freiburg manager Christian Streich told a virtual media conference after its 1-1 draw at title hopefuls RB Leipzig.
With the Bundesliga desperate to complete the season for contractual reasons by June 30, it has been keen to get matches played despite the unusual circumstances.
Police were present at the venues prior to the start in order to deter fans from gathering outside to celebrate.
Inside the stadiums, masks were mandatory for everyone apart from the players.
Teams had to change their routines completely, with Leipzig having brought in a set of airport stairs to keep substitutes at a distance in the stands some three metres higher than the bench.
The Bundesliga has allowed five substitutions in total per fixture to help players cope due to the lack of match practice and the congested playing schedule, with Schalke becoming the first team in Bundesliga history to make use of the temporary measure.