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Firmino: “Playing Football Without a Crowd is Horrible”

The fans are the lifeblood of the club, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Liverpool FC v Nottingham Forest - Premier League Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Former Liverpool FC striker Roberto Firmino has a book coming out! It’s called SI SENOR, My Liverpool Years by Roberto Firmino, and it’s set for release tomorrow on 9 November. Lewis Steele of the Daily Mail has excerpts of the book, where Bobby talks about how that Premier League-winning team was the best team in the world for two years, and that unfortunately-timed defeat to Atletico Madrid in March 2020.

For me, it’s Firmino’s depressing account of his COVID-era football experience that instantly brought back memories of some of the most turgid football viewing in recent memory:

When the authorities decided that football had to stop, we had a 25-point lead over Manchester City with just 27 points left to play for. In other words, we were champions, but we weren’t champions yet.

There were even discussions about cancelling the league altogether, which made me nervous. Can you imagine? We’d had an extraordinary, epic campaign and they were going to deny us the title?

The club organised daily routines to keep everyone fit: morning yoga, afternoon training. All the players stayed connected via Skype, with the fitness coach overseeing and leading the training sessions. It was also a way to keep us connected and bonded.

Liverpool arranged our supermarket shopping; we didn’t have to do anything. I didn’t pass my front gate in two months.

The Premier League finally resumed in June, three months after the suspension, but without the fans. We had to walk out alone. There’s no place like home. And Anfield will always be home to me.

There are football grounds and then there’s Anfield. There are many fanatical, loyal, noisy sets of fans. Where there’s football, there’s passion. But I can tell you, at Anfield, things are different.

Listen to my Brazilian friends, rivals from other clubs. They always told me how tough it is to play at Anfield! Tough for them; a blessing for us. In success and failure, at Anfield I always felt loved. I always had my special place and they never wanted me to leave it.

But at that moment, they were the ones who had to leave. The pandemic took away the Liverpool fans’ chance to support us, share with us the moment they had waited for even longer than us; to release a cheer that had been trapped in their throats for 30 years. How sad that felt! How sorely they were missed!

Less than a week after the restart of the Premier League, we were champions. It was a special moment. Different, of course. The joy was there, we jumped and embraced each other, but it wasn’t a celebration like the others. There was no escaping the feeling that something was not right, that something had been denied to us.

Liverpool fans had waited 30 years to celebrate the title and, when it came, they could only shout, ‘We are the champions!’ from within their own homes. It wasn’t bitter, of course not. It was a moment of great joy that I shared with my team-mates, but it could have been better.

A month later we played our last game at Anfield. I scored, as we defeated Chelsea 5–3, and we finally lifted that trophy we had dreamed of for so long. A huge stage was set up in the Kop, where our loudest fans should have been standing.

It was the ideal place for the celebration, a gesture of solidarity with our absent supporters. There, one legend, Kenny Dalglish, presented the trophy to another: Jordan Henderson.

Outside the ground, big crowds were expected, even though gatherings were prohibited. Several thousand fans were there with us, through the walls on the other side of the stands. Fireworks painted the sky red. I wanted to be out there with them, or have them on the ground with us, but couldn’t.

The reality was that our ground had become just a patch of grass and concrete. Some teams suffered more from playing without fans during the pandemic, some less. We suffered much more than anyone without our supporters. It just never felt right.

Playing football without a crowd is horrible. The fans are our fuel: we play for them, perform for them; we want to bring them joy. Without them, there’s no spectacle, no sentiment. They even tried to pipe crowd noise through the sound system to simulate atmosphere, but you can’t replace real people or emulate emotion.

Miss you, Bobby. Up the make the Parade happen Reds.

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