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A Borussia Dortmund worker wears a mask outside the Signal Iduna Park stadium before the team face Schalke 04 as the Bundesliga resumes

Sports

It’s TV at home as German football returns with ‘ghost games’

On the outside: A Borussia Dortmund worker wears a mask outside the Signal Iduna Park stadium before the team face Schalke 04 as the Bundesliga resumes © POOL/AFP / Martin Meissner

Dortmund, Germany, May 16 – Nicole Bartelt has been a loyal fan at all but two of Borussia Dortmund’s home matches since 2008, but when the Bundesliga restarted Saturday after a two-month hiatus because of the coronavirus, she was forced to keep away from the stands.

Nevertheless, Bartelt, 44, was not complaining that the derby with Schalke was played behind closed doors.

“It’s better to have ‘ghost games’ to slow the epidemic than to have a health catastrophe,” she told AFP.

“Even if we detest Schalke, a season without such a derby doesn’t have the same flavour,” added Bartelt, wearing a black Dortmund jersey, before heading to her friends’ place to watch the game.

Likewise, Marco Perz, 45, who has been a regular at Dortmund matches since 1987, was in front of the television at his friends’

“It’s sad that matches are played in empty stadiums, but it’s better than nothing — the more we keep to health rules, the sooner we can return to normality,” said Perz, with a beer in hand.

It would be “absurd and dangerous” to not allow the season to run its course, said Perz, who was wearing a jacket emblazoned with a dozen Dortmund logos.

“Not necessarily for the players, who may have to buy one less Lamborghini, but for the economy that depends on it — the coaches, ground staff, fan shops. On a match day, some shops, including fast-food stands, rake in revenues equivalent to that of a normal week.”

– ‘Not very comfortable –

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Unlike typical match days, when the city centre would be buzzing with fans, the atmosphere downtown was muted.

Pubs and restaurants have reopened, but they were far from full for the match.

One hand clapping: Thorgan Hazard celebrated scoring for Dortmund against Schalke in an empty stadium © POOL/AFP / Martin Meissner

“We can take in only 50 people, compared to 500 usually,” said Joerg Kemper, who manages Wenkers pub, popular with Dortmund fans.

“People are also not very comfortable about gathering in the current context,” he told AFP.

In the pub, decked out with a dozen black and yellow BVB jerseys, the flooring is now marked with tape denoting the required physical distance.

“Usually such a derby would draw euphoria but, this time, we’re happy even with very little,” he said, adding that on a regular match day, revenues are comparable to that of a week’s takings.

“Borussia champion!” the 40 or so people who turned up at the pub sang at the final whistle as their club won 4-0 — the biggest margin against Schalke since 1966.

While the fans sought at first to keep their distance, their efforts melted away as Dortmund hit their fourth in the 63rd minute, with some fans giving each other kisses.

“It’s important that life restarts again slowly,” said Georges Gourlay, 57. “Even if we are happy that things are going fine in Germany, we must stay cautious.”

– Calm –

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Ahead of the match, police sent out repeated appeals on Twitter, urging fans to stay home to enjoy the game.

Police were in out in force, with several vans parked at the city centre and outside the main train station, with the twin task of stopping fans from assembling as well as to maintaining order as anti-lockdown demonstrations were expected at the same time.

While stay-at-home measures have largely been lifted, social distancing rules forbid more more than two families mingling.

People are also required to stand 1.5 metres (five feet) apart, to avoid contagion.

Outside the stadium, the atmosphere was unusually calm.

Only a few cyclists and pedestrians were to be seen while the shutters remained down over ticket windows.

The only signs that something was stirring were vest-clad stadium staff wearing face masks standing at the main entrances and police on patrol.

For some, the change was just too much to swallow.

Nicolai, a regular contributor on fan forum “Black-yellow” said he was boycotting the derby if he couldn’t watch the game in the stadium.

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“Football won’t be at the centre of the attention,” he wrote.

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