One of my favorite weekly rituals is waking up on a Saturday morning to settle in on the couch with my cat curled up next to me, a cup of coffee in my hand, and the Bundesliga on the television. For me, it’s a relaxing way to kick off the weekend, a signal to my brain that it is time to stop worrying about work and start worrying about whether Borussia Dortmund will ever win the title again, or if Union Berlin will manage to avoid relegation. I look forward to it every week during the season, even if the league inevitably causes me just as much grief as it does joy.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, life as we know it was disrupted in a multitude of ways. In order to protect ourselves and others, we were told to stay home and avoid being in close proximity with other people. Naturally, this meant that many sports went on hiatus — including all of the biggest soccer leagues in the world.
Now, obviously there are bigger issues facing us today than not being able to watch soccer on the weekends, but when you’re as reliant on the comfort of your routines to maintain your sanity as I am, the littlest disruption in your life can make you feel as though you are drowning in a stormy sea. Conversely, being able to return to those routines feels like being thrown a life preserver.
When the Bundesliga announced that they were returning from hiatus in May to play the rest of the season behind closed doors, there was a great deal of debate over whether this was the right thing to do. Not only could returning to play potentially endanger the health of the players and those around them, but to play behind closed doors removed one of the keys to the Bundesliga’s appeal: the raucous atmosphere created by some of the most passionate soccer fans in the world. Many fans said they would not be comfortable watching, and I understood why. Yet while my feelings were mixed, my excitement eventually prevailed over my guilt.
Being able to work from home week in and week out during the pandemic was a privilege, but it was also doing a number on my mental health. I’m the kind of person who rarely goes a day without being terrified of being fired from my job and being unable to pay my student loans. This anxiety is like having an electrical current constantly running through your body until you find something, anything, to flip the switch and turn it off.
So, to feel like you live at the office, to not have a clear boundary between the anxiety of the work week and the release of the weekend — little things, like not being able to go out for happy hour drinks on a Friday night with friends, or watch soccer on a Saturday morning — all of this was making it near-impossible for me to remain calm. Combine that with the overall anxiety of living during a global pandemic, in a country that refused to take it seriously, with a curve that stubbornly refused to flatten…well, I was going to grab whatever life preserver was thrown in my direction and cling to it desperately.
The Bundesliga returned with what is arguably the biggest fixture in the entire league — Borussia Dortmund vs Schalke in the Revierderby. Normally, for such an important game, the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund would be rocking at full capacity, with the 25,000 strong standing section known as the Yellow Wall singing and screaming at a steady roar for ninety minutes. So, needless to say, when I turned on the TV, excited to see the boys in black and yellow battle it out on the pitch again, I was remarkably disturbed.
The sound of silence gave the game a downright apocalyptic feel, as though outside the Westfalenstadion we’d find a city in ruins, populated only by dust bunnies frolicking in the wind. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled to watch a game again — especially because Dortmund won it handily. But the empty stadium and it’s overwhelming silence was an uncomfortable reminder that despite what I and so many others wanted to believe, things had not returned to normal after all, and likely wouldn’t for quite some time.
After that borderline frightening first fixture, the Bundesliga broadcasts began the controversial practice of piping in fake crowd noise over the games. For many, this was not only an unnatural distraction, it also demeaned the match-going fans in absentia. After all, if you decide you don’t actually need live fans to create a vibrant matchday atmosphere for your television viewers, what incentive do you have to cater to fans’ needs by keeping match tickets affordable and standing sections numerous — two of the things that make the Bundesliga such a fan-friendly league, beloved by groundhoppers around the world?
As someone who has been fortunate enough to travel to Germany several times for matches, I absolutely understand these concerns. Yet as much as I wish the opposite were true, I watch the vast majority of my games on television instead of in the stands. And to be quite honest, I found the fake crowd noise to be far more appealing than the eerie silence that prevailed over the Revierderby broadcast. However, I am aware that my opinion is not that of the majority, especially those fans in Germany who are used to being among the match-going fans week in and week out and lending their voices to their teams’ support.
Therefore, I would like to propose a compromise ahead of the new season, currently set to kick off behind closed doors in September. Instead of piping in fake crowd noise, the broadcasters can just pipe in some other alternative soundtracks. That way, we avoid the eerie silence of empty stadiums while also ensuring that the unique sounds provided by matchday fans maintain their value. If anything, the fans will be appreciated even more following this admittedly eccentric experiment. Some of my suggestions:
- Thunderstruck by AC/DC on a loop for the entire 90 minutes. When I went to the Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015, they played Thunderstruck at least three times before each fixture. It’s the perfect “get pumped!” song. There’s no way television viewers will get bored in the 75th minute of Freiburg vs Augsburg if they are listening to Thunderstruck.
- One of those soothing white noise tracks, like gentle waves crashing on a beach. After all, being a Bundesliga fan can be extremely stressful — especially if you support Borussia Dortmund. But how can Dortmund blowing the title race to Bayern yet again hurt me if I am able to meditate throughout? White noise would make watching games a much more zen experience.
- Live stand-up comedy! Get some comedians to just make jokes nonstop about what’s happening on the field — after all, I guarantee Dortmund will provide you with at least one comically inept moment per month, let alone a season. Have them perform in a safe place with a socially distanced audience or just pipe in a laugh track, 1990s sitcom style. Laughing through the tears is usually how I survive the Bundesliga season anyway.
Those are just my suggestions; something tells me fake crowd noise will be what prevails in the end. Whatever the case may be, I will be there, on my couch, with my cat and my coffee, ready to see what the season has in store for me. For now, the new normal, however abnormal it may be, will be enough.