Football grounds aren’t usually empty for long periods of time.
Even during the First and Second world wars, as millions of troops battled across the trenches from 1914 to 1918 and were involved in all manner of military offensives from 1939 to 1945, the game carried on, albeit in a diminished form, with crowds who derived solace from being offered a diversion from bad news and bombing campaigns.
However, nobody was prepared for the arrival of a global pandemic at the start of 2020: an event which has meant social distancing, the wearing of masks, and lengthy impositions of lockdown for every member of the general public in the last 12 months.
The sport has suffered from the lack of spectators and atmosphere inside stadiums.
As Jock Stein once remarked: “Football without fans is nothing”.
He was right.
TV companies can add whatever sound effects they choose to lend the illusion of supporters getting excited, agitated, apprehensive or angry, but in the end, there is something dispiriting about watching matches without the pulse of a crowd.
So what are your memories of the last time you actually attended a football match?
Jock saw 15 goals in his packed programme
Jock Gardiner is one of the sport’s true aficionados.
He has followed it for nearly half a century and has travelled thousands of miles, relishing the rivalry and the camaraderie which exists between different sets of supporters.
As a leading figure in the Aberdeen FC Heritage Trust, he certainly hasn’t been twiddling his thumbs during the protracted Covid crisis.
But there again, while he and his colleagues have been involved in a variety of initiatives to highlight the rich history of the Pittodrie club, including the creation of a new magazine, Black and Gold, he is still looking forward to the time when he can safely be back inside the ground and cheering on the players as they strive to move forward after the departure of Derek McInnes.
In the meantime, he shared with us his still-vivid memories of the last time he stood amid a crowd of supporters and witnessed a glut of goals at two different contests.
And it happened exactly a year ago today.
A thumping for the young Dons in the central belt
He recalled: “March 10 will be the first anniversary of my non-attendance at a football ground since I departed Forthbank Stadium in Stirling to drive back to Aberdeen after an eventful day trip down to the central belt.
“Who could have predicted at that stage what was to follow?
“I remember speaking to the Cove ‘family’ at one of the games including chairman Keith Moorhouse and president Alan McRae and his son Derren during the game pondering what the future for football would be in the weeks ahead.
“Little did we know that punters like me would not set foot inside a stadium for a year!
“The weather was blowing a hoolie as I left the Granite City towards the agricultural hinterland of East Lothian and Ormiston to the windswept Hibernian FC training centre where Aberdeen Colts were meeting their Leith counterparts in a friendly match.
“Fortunately, I had been in touch with the good folk at Pittodrie prior to departure to check out the protocols to allow me to watch the game as an Aberdeen FC representative. Covid 19 had already found its way to Scotland and Hibs had restricted access to club officials only rather than the public.”
He continued: “The match itself was played on the furthest away grass pitch from the car park and, with intermittent gales and rain, the 20 or so hardy folk who huddled round the roped-off playing surface did well to avoid contracting hypothermia let alone something more serious.
“The Hibs youngsters were certainly better prepared for the conditions and they slaughtered the young Dons with a couple of the goals being seriously wind-assisted.
“With five minutes to go, I could take no more and headed back to the car to thaw out, only to miss the Aberdeen consolation goal en-route. So the final scoreline was Hibernian Colts 6 Aberdeen Colts 1 and that was already seven goals on the list.
“Next stop was through Tranent and onto the Edinburgh by-pass to head for a quick bite to eat at Stirling services before parking up at Forthbank stadium for the SPFL 2 match between Stirling Albion and Cove [Rangers].”
A wonderful show from the Cove collective
There is little sign of crowds being permitted to return to lower-league Scottish football even when the competitive schedule has been restored to a semblance of normality.
But Jock was enthralled by the display served up by the north-east team a year go.
He said: “While Aberdeen FC will always be my first love, I have followed Cove for many years and am a season ticket holder at both Pittodrie and Balmoral Stadium.
“A ticket for the main stand was purchased and I was there, along with 422 other people, and I thought the first 45 minutes was the most sublime performance which I had seen all season from a football team.
A last hurrah before the crowds disappeared
“Cove led 5-0 at the break and the standing ovation from the 75 or so away supporters as the players headed down the tunnel for their half-time cuppa was thoroughly deserved, because the Toonsers were simply marvellous.
“Further goals followed in the second half and the full-time score ended up being Stirling Albion 1 Cove 7, which made it a total of 15 goals for the day’s entertainment – which is certainly a personal record for me in all of 48 years ever since I watched my first game at Easter Road way back in 1973.
“It is now a year since I last set foot inside a football ground, which is an unwanted record and it has left a huge void in my weekly routine.
“But the reality is that, given the wider health issues caused by the pandemic, this is a minor inconvenience for me and the many millions of other football fans.
“We all have to be patient and look to a brighter future and, hopefully, Hampden Park can host some fans for the Scotland matches scheduled for the delayed European Championship this summer. If it does, then I dearly hope I am one of them.”
What were your memories of your last game?
Football doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It needs company and conversations and it thrives on a plethora of different opinions on everything under the sun from tactics to VAR.
Although we can’t be inside stadiums at the moment, we can still share contrasting perspectives on what thrills us, troubles us, and occasionally drives us nuts.
So, just as Jock Gardiner has done, why not let us know about your memories from when you were last at a football match in Scotland?
Even in lockdown, there is always plenty to talk about.
If you’d like to take part, contact Neil Drysdale at firstname.lastname@example.org