Premier League Heavily Affected by Lack of In-Person Fans Caused by Pandemic


Left: edhiggins 2011/Wikimedia Commons. Right: Ank Kumar 2013/Wikimedia Commons

Manchester City’s home stadium, the Etihad, is among the Premier League stadiums playing without in person fans during the COVID-19 global pandemic, though Manchester City are set to welcome back 10,000 fans in their stadium for their final Premier League match of the season on May 23, 2021.

Merely a year ago, English football (what Americans call soccer) games had a buzzing atmosphere full of roaring fans. Yet, it has ultimately been replaced with a lesser soundtrack of sparse fans in a futile attempt to recreate the formerly lively atmosphere and erase the silence that now fills the stadiums. The players themselves cannot hear the noise, as it is being provided solely for the viewers’ benefit. The lack of fans in stadiums has heavily impacted English football teams, players, and fans. 

The lack of in-person fans, and, consequently, lack of matchday revenue, has caused English football teams to fall further and further in debt. According to BBC, Manchester United’s stadium, Old Trafford, has the highest capacity and average attendance in the Premier League and in the 2018-19 season, Manchester United made an average of £4m per match. 

Though the Premier League clubs are holding on, English Football League (English Championship, League One, and League Two) clubs seem to be suffering a greater amount. ESPN reported that League One club Portsmouth previously had an average home attendance of 17,800 fans last season, yet now, without fans in the stadiums, they are losing £700,000 every month.

“On paper, the profit and loss is horrific,” Portsmouth manager Mark Catlin said, speaking to ESPN. “It’s running into millions.”

On the other hand, players face a different problem. The players, used to having fans raise their morale at their home stadium, have to instead play in the deafening silence, filled only with the occasional shouts from fellow players on the pitch. 

“We’ve missed the fans massively this yearyou realize how much they drive you on. What a buzz it will be to have them back behind you. Has it changed the game? One million percent,” Sheffield United player David McGoldrick told Sky Sports, a group of British television sports channels. “People like us who need that extra oomph and adrenaline, it’s not helped at all.”

Furthermore, other than a few banners, there isn’t much of a difference between home and awaythe valuable home advantage has been lost.

“The home team doesn’t have the twelfth man anymore,” Longfellow seventh-grader and Everton supporter Jay B. said. “You can see with teams like Sheffield United and Wolverhampton Wanderers since they haven’t had their fans to back them up when they’re in home games, they’ve been performing a lot worse.”

Sadly, Sheffield United faces certain relegation in 20th place, meaning they will be out of the Premier League and will have to go down to the Championship Leaguedespite having finished 9th in the 2019-20 season when teams played much of the season with fans in the stadium. Meanwhile, Wolverhampton Wanderers are, as of May 4th, 2021, in 12th place, even though they finished 7th last season. 

“I can see that there is a lot less energy in the whole game. The home team isn’t as pumped about the game, and it’s even more tactical, in a sense. The teammates communicate with each other a lot more than usual,” Jay added.

ESPN’s Stats and Information Group found that home wins have decreased by 2%, yet away wins have increased by 26% from pre- to post-lockdown. In addition, goals scored at home dropped from 1.5 to 1.4, but there was an 18% increase in away goals, further demonstrating the loss of a home advantage. 

Moreover, the irreplaceable home stadium atmosphere has also been lost, and no soundtrack could possibly recreate what had once been an extremely animated, energetic environment.

“It’s for sure not an advantage for us, especially with the atmosphere our people can create at Anfield [Liverpool’s home stadium], 100 percent. But there are also good stadiums with no atmosphere at the moment,” claimed Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool manager, speaking to Sky Sports.

However, in the end, the players’ and manager’s goals remain the same: to winFans or no fans in the stadium, they must continue to win for their millions of fans that are watching them on television.

“My opinion is that, as long as my team wins, it doesn’t matter whether there are fans or no fans there. I myself watch games on TV, normally not going to the stadium because I can’t go there, so for me, there is the same feeling as long as my team wins,” said Longfellow parent and longtime Manchester United supporter Ye Min T.

Nevertheless, it is clear that fans have a tremendous impact on English football, as embodied by the famous words of Sir Matt Busby, Manchester United legend: “Football is nothing without the fans.”

“We miss them a lot. It’s not the same thing when you play in front of the fans or empty stadiums. We are so happy, and we can’t wait to see them in the stadium again,” said Manchester United player Nemanja Matic to Sky Sports.

For over a year, fans, players, and managers alike have been awaiting the return of in-person fans. Luckily, this is approaching just over the horizon as plans begin to take form for a small number of fans to return to their teams’ stadiums.

“Hopefully, the final two fixtures of our season will have up to 10,000 supporters in them all,” said chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Masters, to BBC. “We’ve got to go past those first initial steps in the government’s roadmap to get there, so hopefully, that will be a fantastic finale to end the season.”

Having fans in stadiums for the first time in over a year, at the very end of the season, could be the perfect end to what has been a very odd season for the Premier League.