Coronavirus: Germany to become first major football league in Europe to swing back into action | World News

Life is returning to some kind of normal in Dortmund. In the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, lockdown was eased further on Friday allowing cafes, restaurants and bars with outside seating to reopen. 

In the main market square, groups of friends gather outside the traditional German beer halls, drinking and eating. Inside shops and on public transport people wear compulsory masks but outside many pull them down around their necks.

But perhaps the most radical move yet in the lockdown lifting is the return of professional football.

This weekend the Bundesliga becomes the first major European football league to swing back into action, having last played on 11 March.

In Dortmund the whole city seemingly follows the football team, the walls and windows of the bars and pubs adorned with the yellow and black the side wears.

Signal Iduna Park stadium
There will be no fans inside the 80,000-seater Signal Iduna Park stadium

On Saturday, the famous Westfalenstadion – renamed Signal Iduna Park – hosts one of the biggest games in German football between Borussia Dortmund and bitter local rivals Schalke, based in Gelsenkirchen, just 18 miles away.

The Revierderby has been played 179 times before but never like this.

The teams have been isolated for seven days, staying in hotels away from their families and tested regularly for COVID-19, existing in a bio-bubble in order to ensure football can return with the minimum possible risk to its participants.

As with matches across Germany, there will be no fans permitted inside the stadium and the streets surrounding will be cordoned off by police.

Germany will become the first major league in Europe to resume play this weekend but behind closed doors.
The lockdown in North-Rhine Westphalia has been eased

In other states across the country, teams have been warned that if fans gather outside the stadium, the match will be immediately abandoned.

In German they call them Geisterspielen – or ghost games – and soon they will be a norm across Europe.

For a team as fiercely supported as Dortmund, the prospect of having no fans inside the 80,000-seater stadium is utterly alien.

“It’s strange and unfamiliar, it makes your heart bleed,” their sporting director Michael Zorc said.

Sky News

Football clubs making their extra time count

Germany has the highest average attendance figures for football in Europe, usually all the Bundesliga stadiums would be close to full.

But for at least the next few weeks they will be the focus of attention around the world, acting as a kind of guinea pig, as other countries, including England take the first tentative steps to lockdown easing.

On Monday, Premier League clubs are expected to vote on whether to return to return to non-contact training and executives will be watching and assessing the success, or otherwise, of the Bundesliga experiment.

“We got calls and emails from big clubs in Spain and England, and I know they really hope that we manage this situation so that other leagues can restart as well,” Schalke sporting director Jochen Schneider said.

“We know how important it is to restart and finish the season as well. We all agree this situation will not change that much by August, September, October, so if we are not able to play now, why will we be given the green light to play in September, October, November.”

Gary Neville is not convinced that football should return yet

Neville not convinced over football’s return

The Deutsche Fussbal Liga’s chief executive, Christian Seifert, says this weekend’s fixtures are about “earning the right” to do it again.

There have already been hiccups, the most headlong-grabbing belonging to Ausburg coach Heiko Herrlich who will miss the game against Wolfsburg after reportedly breaking quarantine rules by leaving the designated team hotel to buy toothpaste and skin cream.

One of the major hurdles the Premier League has to clear in order to return is satisfying players that it is the right time to return the professional game. The Championship season also hangs in the balance.

Middlesborough player Adam Clayton
Middlesborough player Adam Clayton is conflicted on football’s possible return

Middlesbrough player Adam Clayton has personal experience of the devastating effects of coronavirus. His father, Steve, spent 51 days in the intensive care unit at North Manchester General Hospital but has now been released.

Clayton said he was looking forward to being reunited with his dad. “We’re not usually the hugging type but I just know we’ll have a big hug when he gets home and it’s ok to do so.”

Clayton, who used to play for Leeds and Huddersfield, said he was conflicted on football’s possible return.

“It’s just got to be safe. I’ve seen the damage it can do first-hand to families and a family member in particular… I’d be hesitant about wanting to put someone else in that situation.

“But on the flip side, I’m a football player, I want to play the game and finish the season.”

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