Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling feels the return of fans will add a bit of spice for the final matches of the Premier League campaign – and hopes they will never be taken for granted again.
Following a relaxation of national coronavirus restrictions, limited crowds have been able to watch live football once again.
Almost 8,000 Brighton fans cheered their team to a memorable comeback win over Manchester City on Tuesday night, the Seagulls beating the champions 3-2 on a raucous evening at the Amex Stadium in a game which they had trailed 2-0 against 10 men.
The 66-year-old attended a few Vanarama National League matches this season in his role as Hartlepool club president, which the broadcaster admits had all been a “very eerie” experience.
“You can hear every shout, every single comment on the field, from the management, from the players – but that is not the way it should be,” Stelling told the PA news agency.
“We saw this week the sort of joie de vivre which crowds bring to football.
“That is the difference. I don’t think there is any doubt, in terms of results that some clubs have suffered more than others because of a lack of a crowd, and that is right through the leagues.”
After Phil Foden had put City 2-0 ahead just three minutes into the second half following a fine solo goal, the England midfielder cupped his ear to the home fans as he ran away celebrating.
“What that does indicate is how much more spice fans bring to football,” Stelling said.
“Because if there had been no fans there, it would have been a fantastic goal from a fantastic young player and he would just run away, but obviously, they (Brighton fans) had got to him a little bit.
“It (the match) was a little bit feisty, there were some tackles flying in and again without fans we would not have seen that.”
“A lot of them clubs struggled financially because of the lack of fans, particularly lower down the divisions.
“Some teams have struggled to get results without them – and we have seen the impact of the European Super League (protests) as well.
“Fans are not bit-part players in football, fans are major players and it is great to have them back.”
The veteran broadcaster will be tackling another four walking marathons in four regions, covering more than 100 miles, after starting in his native north east on August 30, heading to Yorkshire, then Merseyside and finishing up in London on September 4.
“Covid has had a horrific impact on lives across the UK, but prostate cancer has not gone away,” said Stelling, who saw good friend Ray Clemence, the former Liverpool, Tottenham and England goalkeeper, die from the disease aged 72 in November.
“One in eight men in the UK will get prostate cancer in their lifetime – this is our Dads, partners, brothers, grandads, uncles and friends.”
Stelling added: “I would love people to join me this summer.
“As ever we will visit some iconic clubs and I am hoping a few familiar faces will walk with me along the way.”
:: Jeff Stelling will take on his fourth March for Men for Prostate Cancer UK later this summer – and he wants 400 football fans to join him. Register an interest at http://prostatecanceruk.org/jeffsmarch