Manchester United players line up before kick-off against LASK

How it felt to commentate in an empty stadium

Friday 13 March 2020 08:00

It hit me after the Europa League anthem.

For a while it looked so normal. 

Two teams lined up facing the main stand with the camera going along the line of players and the anthem ringing out from the stadium sound system. 

You know what happens next - the music builds to a crescendo and then comes the roar from all parts of the stadium. The electrifying, guttural roar that is such a feature of European football nights. 

Except this time. This time, there was silence. Eerie, unsettling silence.
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Highlights: LASK 0 United 5

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The players take their positions on the field and get ready to kick off.

The strangest thing? You can hear them. You can hear the words of encouragement, of belligerence and determination. And for once the coaching staff can clearly get their verbal messages across. 

A firm tackle goes in - you’re so used to hearing a lusty roar from the crowd that you almost imagine it happened. It doesn’t. Silence. Eerie silence. 

If ever a goal deserved an audience it was Odion Ighalo’s fantastic effort to make it 1-0. The ball zooms into the top corner. You’re conditioned to expect a huge cheer.

You hear nothing apart from shouts of celebration from United players whilst Ighalo goes down on his knees to celebrate in front of a bank of empty green seats.

He deserved better. His goal deserved an ovation.

All of United’s goals deserved the sort of reaction 1,000 United fans would have brought. 

Daniel James’s drought-ending solo effort, Mata’s clever finish from Fred’s piercing through-ball, Mason Greenwood’s magnificent double woodwork special and Andreas Pereira’s late strike. 

All scored in virtual silence. 

The odd chant and shout from the very few spectators who did manage to be inside the Linzer Stadium served only to emphasise how much the fans were missed. If it was ever in doubt, our great game is nothing without supporters.
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Solskjaer: The boys are full of confidence

As you can see in our interview, Ole is proud of the way his players adapted to the empty stadium in Austria...

And behind-closed-doors football is not to be recommended for TV commentators either. Your voice just doesn’t sound the same.

It’s almost as though you’re whispering with your commentary at the sort of volume level you get covering snooker. 

The excitement when you commentate on a goal is almost manufactured when there is no crowd noise. And it’s a strange feeling when you’re shouting about a goal or key incident when you’re worried that the people around you in the stand can hear every word. It’s inhibiting.

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James: I'm hungry for more goals

"Tonight was about getting off the mark and now I can capitalise to get more goals," says Daniel James...

A key technique when commentating is to say nothing for a second or two, when the ball hits the net and let the crowd noise do its thing, before you try and compete with it. When there’s no noise it really throws you.

These are first-world problems, of course but, all in all, it's very unsettling when you're so used to doing your job in a certain way.

But never mind the commentator. It was much more important how the manager and his players adapted to the strange surroundings and of course, they produced a professional performance that was filled with quality and commitment. In front of the smallest crowd, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men earned our biggest European away win since a 5-0 triumph over Bayer Leverkusen in 2013.

As the Norwegian told me afterwards, he could not have asked for more.

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