The Bundesliga Returns

The Bundesliga is back!

The Bundesliga is back! German soccer fans, desperate soccer fans, and remarkably-desperate non-soccer fans starving for live sports were treated to the return of elite live action after a two month respite. Technically, the Belarusian Premier League never stopped running, but I don’t count that in the “elite” category. So, the Bundesliga, Germany’s top flight soccer league, brought high-quality sports back last weekend.

The weekend’s most anticipated game pitted FC Schalke 04 against Borussia Dortmund in the Revierderby, a classic rivalry. Second place Dortmund pummeled their eighth place opponents, controlling the tie throughout. The game’s standout moment arrived during a corner kick, when Schalke defender Jean-Clair Todibo made a crude comment towards wunderkind Erling Braut Haaland. In response, Haaland politely offered Todibo his elbow, driving the defender to the ground painfully. Minutes later, Haaland scored the first goal of the weekend and Todibo hobbled off the pitch with an injury, the result of accumulated bad karma. Dortmund continued to trounce Schalke 4-0 with goals from Thorgan Hazard and Raphaël Guerrero, with the latter striking twice.

Teams observed a number of social distancing protocols over the return to play. Players and staff quarantined in hotels all week and underwent testing prior to the game. Staff and players spread out across multiple buses en route to the stadiums, and sat six feet apart on the bench while wearing masks, which looked rather goofy. Even celebrations followed the world’s new guidelines. Players substituted celebratory hugs for elbow bumps and, in Haaland’s case, an uncomfortable dance routine. The one team that did celebrate with a dog-pile, Hertha Berlin, drew mild controversy. Likewise, at kick-off, captains bumped ankles with the refs instead of shaking hands. Most noticeably, the stands were empty and police patrolled the environs to prevent spectators. Microphones picked up every touch on the ball and every shout and insult, replacing fan noise. The soccer remained largely unchanged, but the coronavirus loomed over the conspicuously silent viewing experience.

To remedy the absence of fans, some suggest that clubs pump music through the stadiums. Personally, I think that’s a little kitsch, plus I don’t want to feel like I’m at SoulCycle while watching soccer. Another idea is to blast artificial fan noise. I reject that idea, too. It sounds very North Korea—Behold! Look at our many fans!—and very unappealing. The season will probably continue with the current format, with no artificial noise and no fans. People are watching, though, and in the midst of trying times, German fans are rallying around their clubs. Ultras—the special name for uber-fans—have banded together to aid charities, deliver meals, and assist with relief efforts. After their win, Dortmund’s players applauded their abandoned fan section, the Yellow Wall. During his post-match interview, a reporter asked Haaland if Dortmund was trying to “send a message” with their salute. Haaland’s answer: “Yes.” Sometimes, sports can be the most important unimportant thing in the world, the relief we all could use.

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