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Comment: Fans pining for football’s return may soon find it’s not quite the same game they know and love

In this day and age of football being a global game, a crowd watching at any stadium is almost always quite a small fraction of the total number of spectators.

The Wanda Metropolitano may hold less than 70,000 seats, but over 11 million people in the UK alone tuned in to watch last season’s Champions League final. It’s estimated that over 3 billion people watched the 2018 World Cup final. Twitter is never busier than when big sporting events are on, with the social media site well known to have become the ‘second screen’ for fans, providing them with a real-time update of stats, fan-recorded replays of skills, and of course, an endless stream of opinions on the game.

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Clearly, it’s no longer just about the few thousand who show up at the ground and sing for 90 minutes, but it may play a more important role for those watching at home than we’ve realised yet.

Liverpool‘s 2-0 win over Tottenham in Madrid was by no means a classic performance; Jurgen Klopp’s side put in a solid but unspectacular display against a Spurs side who didn’t do much either. In the end, a Mohamed Salah penalty and a late strike from Divock Origi did the job, but the match was short of memorable moments for any neutrals watching. There were no great golazos, moments of skill or even particularly pretty passages of play.

One moment that went viral after the game, however, was the reaction of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho, who were pundits in the beIN Sports studio that night.

While attempting to do some analysis after the game, the pair were clearly distracted by the sheer noise of the travelling Liverpool fans. The iconic ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ chant rung out across the ground, and clearly moved the two managers. Mourinho described it as “beautiful”; Wenger added that it is “unique”. As much as the game has evolved, and our ability to enjoy and understand it enhanced hugely by technology, it is still the simplest things that really capture our imaginations.

For Liverpool in particular, a city with a strong community spirit, winning their first title in 30 years this season would have been “a tremendous party”, according to Empire of the Kop editor Jordan Chamberlain. “It’s pretty heartbreaking,” he says. “But right now – given everything that’s happened – I just want to see the Reds officially win it on a football field and not find out about it via a press-release.

“It would have been a tremendous party in the city, even bigger than after the Champions League last year – but hopefully Jurgen Klopp can build a dynasty and there’ll be plenty more opportunities in the future.”

If the Premier League returns this summer, people will tune in, there can be no doubt about that, but it may be some time before we get roaring crowds back in football grounds, and the longer that goes on, the more you have to wonder if people will continue to follow the sport as passionately as before. It will, certainly at first, be a relief just to see some blokes kicking a ball around again, but it seems undeniable there will feel like something is missing.

A philosopher once asked “if a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound?” and us football fans might quite rightly ponder, “if Liverpool lift the Premier League title without the Anfield crowd chanting You’ll Never Walk Alone, did they really win it?”