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Final Third: Silence not a golden way for fans to be allowed back

Balancing act: Roberto Firmino in front of the sponsors’ logos at Anfield PICTURE: GETTY

FOOTBALL is back in considerable quantity if not yet sufficient quality, but there was a stark reminder this week of how far we still are from anything that supporters might be able to describe as normal.

It wasn’t in the giant awnings covering the Premier League seats where the fans would normally sit, emblazoned with messages of support for the NHS, key workers, Chivas scotch whisky and Western Union credit transfers.

It wasn’t in the cardboard cut-outs of lifelong fans, dogs and Osama bin Laden filling Football League seats usually reserved for season-ticket holders.

No, this warning of how far off normal service may be came from Holland, and it was a revelation no less horrifying than watching an episode of Peter Crouch: Save our Summer.

The Eredivisie, Holland’s top tier, was suspended on March 12 and the 2019/20 season cancelled for good and declared void on April 25.

On Wednesday, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte gave the green light for the 2020/21 football season to begin on September 12 and, hugely encouragingly, confirmed some spectators would be allowed inside the grounds to see it.

Social distancing measures mean stadiums are only likely to operate at one third of capacity, which is disappointing but understandable.

The real shock is in what they will — or rather won’t — be able to do once they get in there.

Because, in an attempt to limit the potential to spread Covid-19, the Dutch authorities will only allow fans to watch football in stadiums if they promise to keep quiet. No singing, no chanting, no celebrating loudly and certainly no questioning the parentage of the referee.

‘If that does happen, it (the stadium) will close again,’ Rutte warned. ‘Bring a horn or whisper “hooray”, that’s it.’

Now this is not a day to lambast the Dutch — a nation we could probably learn a thing or two from when it comes to pandemic response. The fact they can make plans to have fans in stadiums in three months is proof of that. Nor is keeping your mouth closed an unreasonable request, but it is almost certainly an unrealistic one.

Watching football is a passionate business. One in which shouting in joy, despair or sheer anger at another futile, predictably unsuccessful short-corner routine is an integral and often unavoidable part of the fun. Football without fans, most of us agree, is better than no football at all but watching football in silence, all that emotion kept inside, might be asking too much. I’d rather stay at home.