It’s a unprecedented situation that football currently finds itself in. From games being played behind closed doors to the full suspension of leagues across the world in the matter of hours as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to grow.
Rangers vs Bayer Leverkusen at Ibrox on Thursday night in the Europa League was one of the last to be played in front of spectators, and Get German Football News Editor-in-Chief Daniel Pinder was there to experience it.
With Champions League fixtures the previous night being played behind closed doors, games in Italy and Spain being postponed and Eintracht Frankfurt vs Basel, LASK Linz vs Manchester United, Wolfsburg vs Shakhtar Donetsk and Olympiacos vs Wolves all played to an empty stadium, the fact that Rangers vs Bayer Leverkusen proceeded as normal was a bizarre situation.
With COVID-19 concerns growing in the United Kingdom, there was uncertainty as to whether the game would be called off at last minute, or if it would be played behind closed doors. At 3pm GMT, a statement released by Rangers stated that the game would proceed as normal, but with precautions in place.
“The Club has taken additional safety measures including installing hand sanitiser gel dispensers in all public toilets. Coronavirus safety information will also be displayed on the big screens at the match and has been added to the Club programme,” read a club statement.
Upon arrival at Ibrox, everything was typically normal, but everything still had a slight eeriness to it. Fans knew that this could be one of the last games of football we see for a period. Catch it, Bin it, Kill it was constantly being played on the big screens whilst in the press area, everyone was wary to the situation. Instead of helping yourself to food, as is the norm in Germany, we were waited upon with only the waiter being able to dish out food with tongs. Sanitiser was freely available and Europe’s media was discussing the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak. The talk of the media room was “how can this game go ahead?” knowing the ongoing situation, as well as the likelihood of the second leg not going ahead.
But known for its atmosphere, 47,494 fans packed out Ibrox in what was one of the last football games before worldwide suspensions and the banning of large gatherings. As someone who has never visited Ibrox before, I was amazed. The noise and passion from the Rangers fans is unrivalled and takes a lot of beating.
The pre-match atmosphere, the Ibrox roar and Follow Follow being belted out. Quite the memory. But still, the COVID-19 was at the forefront of people’s minds. No handshakes, mascots being kept a safe distance from the players and as Kicker’s Stephan von Nocks points out, Leverkusen’s communications director Holger Trump handed out sanitiser to journalists prior to Leverkusen players entering the mixed zone.
On the pitch, the game didn’t really matter and for the Rangers fans though, it was a game they would rather forget. Kai Havertz gave Peter Bosz’s side the lead before Charles Aranguiz doubled Leverkusen’s lead in the second half. Rangers pulled one back through George Edmundson, but Bayer scored a third away goal through Leon Bailey two minutes from time.
It’s a game that became irrelevant but historic for reasons off the pitch. The next day, Bundesliga suspended its football as did Scotland and the Premier League. Players and staff of numerous football clubs have self-isolated as a precaution following positive cases in the vicinity and as much as we love football and how it can separate us from the real world, there are far more important things than 90 minutes of football. Health must take priority.