BERLIN (AP) — A strong police and media presence outside the stadium provided the only clues that Union Berlin was about to play Bayern Munich in its biggest — and quietest — Bundesliga game of the season on Sunday.
Only a few diehard soccer fans showed up outside promoted Union’s stadium and were quickly made to move on. The game, which Bayern won 2-0, was held amid strict hygiene measures because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We were hoping to get something of the game, but they’re not letting anyone through,” Union fan Helga Wischke told The Associated Press. “We’re always here, we have season tickets. Maybe we’ll hear something from the game.”
Wischke said the security measures were justified if they prevent the spread of the virus.
“And you know, if there’s a goal, everybody is hugging everyone and celebrating. I’m not saying we’ll score a goal, but it’s a pity,” she said before a police officer asked her to move along.
There were no fans drinking beer as they normally do on the train to Union’s games in Berlin’s eastern borough of Köpenick, no quiet contemplation among supporters, no line of police to greet them, and no street vendors offering more beer to sustain them on their way to the quaintly named Stadion An der Alten Försterei (Stadium at the Old Forester’s House). The streets around the stadium were uncharacteristically still, and the forest walk there deserted.
The teams were originally supposed to meet – also without fans – on March 14, but the Bundesliga was suspended three days before as the outbreak began to take hold in Germany. The league authorities finally gave in after Europe’s other four big domestic leagues had already been shut down and infections took hold among players in the second division.
But the Bundesliga returned after its two-month break on Saturday after getting the green light to resume from politicians on May 6. Games including the Ruhr derby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke were played without fans and with strict hygiene measures in place to convince a skeptical public that soccer’s restart was justified.
Players who didn’t start games wore masks as did team officials. Seats and balls were disinfected, and players were asked to keep their emotions in check. Goal celebrations were muted, marked by fist bumps, elbow touches and lonely gestures.
Only 10 reporters were allowed in to see Union play Bayern.
Sirens pierced the silence to announce the arrival of the teams, with Union’s players arriving first in two buses before Bayern followed, also in two buses instead of the usual one.
Union’s anthem, usually blared out to 22,000 home fans before games, was blared out before kickoff anyway as if to reach supporters in their homes. There was nowhere else to watch. Bars and clubs are still closed in Berlin, where strict social distancing measures remain in place to combat the virus.
The referee’s whistle, players’ and coaches’ shouts, and the thud of the sanitized ball being kicked around could be heard even outside the stadium, where police mounted on horseback casually chatted among themselves.
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