Bundesliga fans’ litmus test of staying away: Richard Buxton
Their self-restraint is football's best hope of returning to normality
Common sense has helped set the Bundesliga apart from its elite peers in European football.
Few, if any, other domestic competition can rival its seamless ability to simultaneously act as an enabler for a vibrant fan culture and cultivating some of the game's most promising talents.
Affordable ticket prices and balanced ownership structures are further hallmarks which football devotees the world over wish were no longer confined exclusively to the German top flight.
Those admirable standards could be elevated to new heights this weekend, when the Bundesliga makes its long-awaited return to action amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the English Premier League continues to argue and agonise over Project Restart, their continental counterparts are again laying down a marker for how things should be done.
Tomorrow's Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04, however, will be the litmus test on which football's comeback from the coronavirus succeeds or fails.
Stakes are always high whenever these clubs face off; their derby is among the highest-anticipated fixtures in the country's football calendar and surpassed only by Dortmund's clashes with Bayern Munich in Der Klassiker.
Its importance now has become exponential.
Trust remains a vital component in the German way of life which extends to its football culture.
Drinking in full view of the pitch and using pyrotechnics in stadiums are just two of the civil liberties fans enjoyed before the world found itself changed immeasurably two months ago.
More than most, the Bundesliga embodies the mantra that football without fans is nothing.
When they speak, the game's governing body invariably takes note. Widespread protests against the anti-social nature of Monday night matches saw them scrapped altogether in 2018.
But respect is a two-way street and those same supporters are now being urged to resist the temptation of reverting to old habits by staying away from games played behind closed doors.
Dortmund have first-hand experience of the problems caused by fans flocking to an empty stadium.
Their Champions League knockout stage defeat by Paris Saint-Germain in March - which was played behind closed doors - saw thousands of home fans replicating their match-day experience outside the Parc des Princes.
Standing shoulder to shoulder in huddled masses, while waving flags and setting off flares, proved as irresponsible as Uefa's decision to allow Liverpool's home match against Atletico Madrid on the same evening to be played in front of a full house.
The Reds themselves are battling the misconception that fans cannot be trusted to stay away, after Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson claimed that thousands would congregate outside Anfield to celebrate their impending EPL title triumph even if matches remained off-limits to them.
Back in Germany, Borussia Moenchengladbach fans also descended on their own stadium and let off flares after a 2-1 win over Cologne in the only Bundesliga game previously held behind closed doors helped preserve their outside chance of challenging for this season's title.
Repeat performances will not be tolerated by the authorities, who have already fired warning shots to anyone considering venturing to their spiritual homes for games in the coming weeks.
Dortmund's world-famous "Yellow Wall" is set be an eerie sight tomorrow, without the familiar presence of 25,000 fans bedecked in black and yellow.
For many of the club's die-hard followers, restrictions on visiting their lifeblood is likely to provoke head-versus-heart dilemmas.
Yet exercising self-restraint represents football's best hope of returning to some semblance of normality.
If Juergen Klopp's old club can lead the way, the EPL will stand a fighting chance.
Leipzig coach Nagelsmann will be mindful of his words in empty stadium
RB Leipzig coach Julian Nagelsmann will have to pick his words carefully when he coaches his players in front of empty stands and hundreds of millions of television viewers as the Bundesliga becomes the first major league to restart tomorrow.
Nagelsmann's team host Freiburg and only 300 officials and personnel will be in and around the stadium, as the league resumes after a two-month stoppage amid tight coronavirus control measures.
Players, who have been isolated for the past days, will not be allowed to shake hands or celebrate in groups while also having to refrain from spitting.
Nagelsmann's usually vocal coaching will also be audible across the globe due to a lack of background noise.
"The microphones are on, the volume in the stadium will be different," he said in a video news conference yesterday.
"And I will be better heard than before. I will try to behave in a socially acceptable way in the box and things I usually say maybe say them in a lower voice or even not at all."
The 32-year-old, the youngest Bundesliga coach in history, also does not know how goal celebrations will look, with players told to keep their distance as part of safety measures.
They could be limited to just elbow bumps, which is allowed among the draconian set of guidelines.
The central pillar of the German Football League's (DFL) resumption plan is the mass testing of players, coaches and backroom staff. They are tested at least twice a week and once on the eve of matches, with positive cases isolated.
The decision to quarantine teams, however, rests with the state's authorities.
Fans may be barred from the stadiums, but Borussia Moenchengladbach supporters can still have their "presence" in the form of a cardboard cut-out for 19 euros (S$29). The club said more than 12,000 such effigies have been ordered.
Meanwhile, police will be keeping the areas around the arenas off limits for fans.
Ahead of Borussia Dortmund's derby with Schalke 04 at the Signal Iduna Park tomorrow, the hosts' fan group Suedtribuene had promised not to gather outside the stadium.
Dortmund police chief Gregor Lange had urged fans to "show that the decision for the restart was no mistake".
The DFL also confirmed yesterday that up to five substitutions are allowed, while teams will be relegated provided the season is completed. - REUTERS, AFP