We all know that football teams have been playing to empty stadiums due to Covid-19, and the clubs themselves have been adding crowd noise to try and give the games some atmosphere – but some clubs around the world have been ultra-creative.
AGF Arhus in Denmark built a 40-metre virtual grandstand so that players can see fans at home watching the game. It looks like a huge ‘Zoom’ call. When the team score a goal, players can go up to the ‘wall’ and celebrate with the fans. They also have had a camera installed at the side of the pitch and when the players celebrate, they run to the camera and the celebration is broadcast into the watching fans’ homes – so they are giving supporters what appears to be a personalised celebration.
Also in Denmark, league leaders FC Mitulin allow fans to attend each home game in their cars – a bit like a drive-in movie. A huge screen is erected in the car park and fans watch from their cars. They listen to commentary on their car radios and are encouraged to make noise, take air-horns and generally create a fun atmosphere.
In Australia, they’ve taken the tech a step further. A company called OZ Sports uses the latest technical advances to enhance the viewing experience of people watching at home. Members of the public can sign up from their homes and pick their avatar, pick a team jersey to wear and then choose a seat in the virtual stadium where they want to sit. Then when the game is screened on TV, it looks like the ground is full of people. And if the TV company show action near the corner flag for example, you could see yourself in the crowd reacting to the action taking place. It all sounds very futuristic!
The Guardian newspaper remembers one of the first times an English club – Arsenal – tried to enhance an empty part of their ground by ‘adding fans’. They said: A number of readers flagged up the ‘Highbury Mural’, painted to hide construction works on the North Bank in 1992. “It caused a lot of controversy,” writes Elliot Leaver. “The underrepresentation of people of colour and women was pointed out and children’s charities were not happy that kids were next to people who didn’t appear to be their parents. It was repainted several times to make it more diverse, including the addition of four nuns in the top left-hand corner. One was hit in the face by a Lee Dixon clearance.”
The mural season was a disastrous one for the Gunners. When a parachutist almost crashed into the wooden construction on the opening day of the Premier League season it set the tone. The team limped to 10th place.
Taleoftwohalves.co.uk says that cardboard fans have proved popular with several clubs. They said, “Borussia Monchengladbach were the brainchild of this genius idea to try and make their stadium full of spectators and supporters fully got behind the idea. Having been charged £17 per head, each fan was able to have a life-sized photo of them printed out on to the piece of cardboard and put in the stands.”
It appeared to be a popular idea with fans of the club, as well, as more than 12,000 were ordered for their home clash with Bayer Leverkusen following the restart of the Bundesliga. One South Korean team from the K-League, FC Seoul had the novel idea of using ‘sex dolls’ in their stadium to fill the seats. The Guardian reported: A professional football team in South Korea has apologised after “mannequins” it used as substitute fans during a match at the weekend turned out to be sex dolls.
The K-League club FC Seoul said the dolls, which had been dotted around stands currently off-limits to supporters due to the coronavirus outbreak, had been ordered inadvertently after a “misunderstanding” with the supplier.
So, football clubs have been trying all sorts of things to try and make the atmosphere as realistic as possible. At Huddersfield Town, the club has added fifty cardboard cut-outs. A club spokesman said, “That’s the biggest crowd and best atmosphere we’ve had all season!” OK, we made up this last bit!