Fans torn as La Liga en route to return behind closed doors

AFP
Spanish clubs began training in groups of 10 players on Monday. Photo: AFP

Fans have been left juggling the excitement of football's return and the disappointment as La Liga plans to restart next month behind closed doors.

More than two months after the coronavirus pandemic halted the season in Spain, players have begun training in small groups as they aim to be as ready as possible for the planned reboot on June 12.

Yet goals, saves and tackles will all be greeted by silence or at best, artificial cheers approved by authorities to be pumped out of a sound system.

Even for Sevilla against Real Betis, the usually-heart thumping Andalusian derby that encapsulates the importance of supporters more than any other Spanish fixture, the atmosphere will be non-existent on the first weekend back.

But for clubs, there is a financial necessity given La Liga president Javier Tebas has estimated cancelling the season could cost them 1 billion euros ($1.08 billion).

"People need their dose of football," Adolfo Barbero, a commentator on Movistar, Spain's primary football broadcaster, told AFP.

"There is that want for fans to go to matches but for many now, the priority is to play. They want to see 22 guys, a ball and a green pitch, the rest will be for afterwards."

For fans, there is an acceptance that the sport returning in muted form is better than it not coming back at all.

"We understand that football without fans is not the football we want," says Jose Manuel Mateo, president of Aficiones Unidas, an association of fans from different clubs.

"But given the exceptional nature of the situation, we have no choice but to accept it."

"I don't think football can afford just to wait or stand still until there is a vaccine, which guarantees safety," Mateo added.

According to La Liga, playing without fans is not without cost too as clubs surrender considerable sums in matchday revenue.

But finishing the remaining 11 rounds of the season and completing European competitions would limit losses to around 303 million euros, a third of the figure contemplated for cancellation.

Fans torn as La Liga en route to return behind closed doors