Silence of the fans | 

Why I’m worried that empty stadia during the Christmas period looks inevitable

The Premier League’s management Board is meeting tomorrow and, for me, a ban on spectators is the only way they will be able to keep the show on the road

Paul McGrath

I FEAR we are heading for the horrible scenario of Premier League matches being played in front of silent stadiums.

With only the shrieking of the gulls to accompany the shouts of the players as the Christmas and New Year’s fixtures are played out.

I hate it, but it is what I’m going to get for a Christmas present.

The Premier League’s management Board is meeting tomorrow and, for me, a ban on spectators is the only way they will be able to keep the show on the road.

The Omicron variant of Covid is spreading with such speed in Britain that I cannot imagine how fans will be able to sit right beside each other over the coming weeks.

Calling the matches off completely, for say a fortnight, is the other option the League could go for.

It brings two problems. One, when do they reschedule the games in a season in which there is such pressure to get everything finished in time because next season starts early to facilitate the winter World Cup in Qatar.

I mean, this Tuesday and Wednesday. we’re supposed to have the League Cup quarter-finals being played a few days before Christmas.

If football is stopped altogether, where are they going to be fitted in to a season which already has no wriggle room?

But the bigger obstacle to a blanket shutdown is the television companies.

Just as England’s football grounds are full for the Christmas matches, so the TV ratings are huge too.

With millions of pounds being paid for every single match, the last thing the television bosses will want is to be left with blank screens to fill all over Christmas.

There are only so many times they can show Die Hard or The Great Escape.

As I write these words, only five of this weekend’s scheduled ten Premier League matches will be played – some of them with teams patching up 11 players and subs and sending them out, hoping for the best, as Covid comes into their training grounds.

Take today. Spurs, who are three matches behind some teams in the Premier League, are playing Liverpool, who played last Thursday night, have to travel to London today and then have a match on Wednesday and another one next Sunday.

If Kane doesn’t bang in the goals then Liverpool will surely sink Tottenham

No, that sort of stuff is not a runner in the long-term.

Either all the matches are on, or they are not, and the price to be paid for getting them played may be that no-one is there to watch them.

I’ll hate that if it happens. We’ve only got used to fans being at football matches again.

The idea of being able to hear players roaring ‘man on,’ ‘my ball’ and all the rest of it, just doesn’t sit well with me.

But it may be where we are going.

Even if the ban on fans comes in, but only lasts a couple of weeks, it is still going to be a blow for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City who have turned their home grounds into fortresses this season.

We saw what happened at Anfield last term when Liverpool lost six successive home matches in front of an empty Kop.

Football without the fans roaring their team on just doesn’t sit well with me. I may have to put up with it.

Before then, I fancy Liverpool to bag another three points in their title challenge by doing a job on Spurs today.

Yes, as I outlined above, Liverpool are playing every few days it seems, but manager Jurgen Klopp has built a seemingly irresistible force on Merseyside.

And I cannot see how Tottenham will be able to defend against them this afternoon.

There was something almost poetic about the way they shrugged off Newcastle’s early goal from Jonjo Shelvey last Tursday night and almost casually came away with a 3-1 win.

Yes, the win wasn’t safe until Trent Alexander-Arnold scored that late cracker, but Mo Salah is just in scintillating form and is playing great football.

It is all happening even though Sadio Mane is on a goal-scoring drought of six matches.

Unless Harry Kane has a huge game in the Spurs stadium today, and gets a couple of goals, I cannot see any outcome other than an away win.

Likewise Manchester City will win at Newcastle, for whom January 1st cannot come quick enough – so that new boss Eddie Howe can get in some players who might be able to keep the Magpies up.

I see no way for them to get anything off the magnifcent City today.

Chelsea have had a few hiccups of late, such as dropping two home points to Everton the other night.

Thomas Tuchel’s (below) team go to Wolves today and that won’t be easy as the home team are a good outfit who have played well in quite a few matches this season, where they have come away with no reward.

This is a dodgy one for Chelsea with a few key players sidelined by Covid.

Yet they need to win the game to keep pace at the top of the table, where Liverpool and Manchester City are just not slipping up.

Indeed the way they are playing, and winning remorselessly, reminds me of the end of the 2018/19 season when those two clubs just won match after match as City sneaked it.

There’s every chance it could happen again this season.

Both Red and Sky Blue are good enough to show the rest a clean pair of heels and pull away.

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