by Paul Kennedy
MAIN MANE: Sadio Mane scores for Liverpool against Chelsea in front of no supporters. AFP Photo
I used to love going to away games when I was a kid.
There’s nothing better I don’t think than supporting your team in a strange town you’ve never been to before and know little about.
It always starts early. By coach or train, beer flowing, songs being sung, and more often than not, a good time had by all.
Some places to visit are tougher than others. Millwall away from home when I was a teenager in an FA Cup match was a match I won’t forget in a hurry, and I remember vividly an Arsenal game in the early 1990s at the old Highbury Stadium with home supporters waving wads of cash at the ‘paupers from Liverpool’ hunched together on the terraces below.
Old Trafford, a ground I’ve visited many times, is always an intimidating place because of the staunch rivalry between Liverpool and United fans.
You have to remember these were the days when fans were kept apart before, during and after matches and often you’d be stuck in the ground for up to an hour after the final whistle as the police did their best to avert any trouble outside.
If it was intimidating for me, I can’t imagine what it must be like for the players. Sure, they are professional and used to playing in a powder-keg atmosphere, but when you have 50,000-plus supporters chanting obscenities at you for 90 minutes, it must get on your nerves.
That’s why I think this season is going to be like no other. And for some teams, it will absolutely work in their favour depending on the fixture list. Others, not so much.
In the first weekend of the new Premier League season, eight matches were played and of these games six resulted in wins for the away team.
Week two and there were 10 games played, with more than half again going to the teams playing away from home including a three-nil triumph for Brighton at Newcastle and a win for Crystal Palace at Manchester United.
Liverpool also beat Chelsea comfortably on Sunday at Stamford Bridge by two goals to nil in a match played in front of an empty stadium.
Would fans have made that much of a difference? You could argue that Liverpool have had a good record away at Chelsea in recent seasons so maybe not.
But in other fixtures the lack of fans will make a massive difference.
Take Leeds United for example. The hatred between them and Manchester United knows no bounds and the team from Manchester will play at Elland Road at the end of April next year.
If, and I really hope this is not the case, supporters are still not allowed into stadiums by that time, then United will be rubbing their hands with glee.
Playing in front of a packed stadium full of fans desperate to see you lose must surely affect a player’s psyche. Take those baying for your blood out of the mix and it just becomes a normal 11 v 11 match-up.
With no fans there is no advantage, or let’s say very little advantage, for the home team and away teams heading to the likes of Old Trafford, Anfield or intimidating grounds like Elland Road will be thankful if they are doing so sans supporters.
As for those playing at Manchester City, well I guess it doesn’t really count. Fans or not, there’s about as much atmosphere as the Etihad Stadium as there is on the moon, and it’s about as intimidating as a basket full of kittens. Sorry City fans. VNS