The Athletic subs watching on from the stands.
LaLiga Santander’s first Sunday afternoon game without fans in the stands came and went at San Mames and, in truth, it wasn’t all that bad.
We see lower league games played with fewer people watching on than are in a Madrid bar any given morning for breakfast, but football’s beauty has so many more layers.
Those seats usually filled by fans are now for the players and coaching staff, who are now in groups of about 20 per team and scattered around the first few rows.
Even the clubs’ higher ups have to distance in their usual areas, and the numbers of those are limited too and each wearing masks.
The sound of the ball is different now, even to the sound in training sessions. It’s hit with a louder thump, and one that’s different to the sound made when a non-professional kicks the ball.
Even without fans, though, the players play at an elite level, motivated by their own professionalism.
On-pitch communication increases with every goal and, as legs grow more tired, and even coaches move more as time passes.
Protestations from the bench are more noticeable, and perhaps that’s why a yellow card was flashed in that direction at San Mames.
Football is different now, but we have to make the most out of it and enjoy it as best we can.