Termed as the ‘beautiful game‘ by social media and advertising, football is (was) the number one global sport drawing millions of fans around the world into stadiums and international competitions. Such massive worldwide interest undoubtedly brought with it lucrative revenues, in particular, for the clubs and players.
Fans not only brought revenue but it was also the fans that had a significant psychological impact on the players and overall match experience. A century ago psychologists examined the impact that the presence of a crowd (fans) may have had in affecting performance, this could be individual performance or may extend to team sports.
Often termed as ‘social facilitation’ Floyd Allport, in 1920, introduced the notion that the presence of others (also termed as the social group) can facilitate certain
In other words, an audience can improve performance. Several lines of empirical and experimental research followed this theoretical notion, one of which was the first author’s study on the role of the home crowd advantage in lifting the football players’ performance.
But with the worldwide pandemic due to COVID-19 and its remedial social isolation, which may be the new ‘normal’ for the foreseeable future, we may ask, what are the consequences of the beautiful game being played in social isolation on the players, clubs and fans? Would the same level of support and interest continue if the game is played in empty stadiums or under stringent social distancing measures? #
It is no doubt that for most people it is the rush of adrenaline and sense of excitement generated by the social gathering and the taunting of their rivals that is what they consider as the main elements of the beautiful game.
Indeed for most fans the attraction is to travel to football events locally and internationally, often without the intention to watch the match live but to congregate in fan zones and express their emotions to their sporting rivals and so on. So ‘football is nothing without fans‘ when there is no revenue for the clubs and for players.
It is also a significant step down in players’ motivation and the team’s level of performance, not only in football but in any sporting and athletic event without a competitive atmosphere created in most part by the fans.
It is thus clear that the beautiful game will lose its appeal in the ‘new normal’ post-pandemic phase if played behind closed doors and in social isolation.
There will be no reason to wear your colours, no opportunity to taunt your rivals and to shout at the TV screen while watching your team score a goal
in an empty stadium. In an uncertain future one thing is certain, the players won’t hear you.
Image credit: Freepik
Dr Linda Duffy is Associate Professor of Sport Psychology at Middlesex University. She is a founding member of the Division of Sport and Exercise Psychology of the British Psychological Society.
Dr Bahman Baluch is an Associate Professor and Chartered Psychologist at Middlesex University. His main research interests are cognitive and developmental psychology.