With UEFA enforcing England’s Friday night Nations League fixture against Croatia take place behind closed doors, Gareth Southgate’s team find themselves swapping the noise of Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium for an altogether quieter soundscape in a rehash of last summer’s memorable World Cup semi-final.
Fans have been banned from attending the game as a result of a two-game sanction imposed upon Croatia after the country’s supporters went rogue and etched a swastika into the pitch ahead of the country’s Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.
In fact, that game was also being played out to an empty stadium after Croatian supporters were punished for racist chants made in another fixture against Norway.
Whilst Croatia are seemingly getting used to playing in stadiums filled with blissful peace and quiet, this experience might come as a shock to some of the England players, Friday’s game marking the first time in 998 matches a senior England team will play an international fixture behind closed doors.
As part of the England camp’s preparations to cope with this unusual atmosphere, Gareth Southgate has reportedly insisted his team study footage of other fixtures in which fans were left out in the cold. Here’s a look at five games they might learn a thing or two from…
West Ham 5-1 Castilla (1980)
Perhaps the most notable game to take place behind closed doors is a thrilling 1980 European knockout tie between West Ham and Castilla. The fixture is often referred to by fans as the ‘ghost game’ due to the haunting atmosphere.
Almost unsurprisingly for the time, when West Ham travelled to the Bernabeu for the first leg of the tie, trouble marred the fixture (which West Ham lost 2-1), with more than 50 West Ham fans ejected from the stadium due to violence.
UEFA, keen to avoid further trouble in the reverse fixture, threw the book at them – insisting West Ham’s next two home games take place away from their fans.
Unable to even watch their team on TV (UEFA had stood firm on their ruling by also rejecting proposals for the game to be streamed live into cinemas), Hammers’ fans endured a nervous evening back in London, while a mere 262 assorted staff and media were in attendance at Sunderland’s Roker Park, where the game had been moved to.
Seemingly undeterred by the crowd’s absence, goals from Geoff Pike, David Cross and Paul Goddard put the London club ahead on aggregate, before Castilla’s Bernal replied to send the game to extra time, prolonging the eerie experience.
But Cross scored twice more in extra time (including a wonderful backwards header) to dash the visitors’ hopes and settle the tie. At least no dejected fans had to make the trip back to Madrid.
— Steve Tongue (@stevetongue) October 10, 2018
Leyton Orient 1-3 Colchester (2017)
A League Two fixture between Colchester and then recently relegated Leyton Orient ended in bizarre circumstances when a fans’ protest seemingly led to the game’s early abandonment. But the teams eventually returned to finish the game behind closed doors.
Acting in protest against owner Francesco Becchetti, Orient fans invaded the pitch during the 85th minute – refusing to leave the pitch for over an hour, despite the pleas of manager Omer Riza. Eventually, fans were told the game had been abandoned.
However, once they’d left, and following a lengthy postponement of close to two hours, the players snuck back onto the pitch to play out the final eight minutes in the now empty stadium, with Colchester seeing out their 3-1 lead.
Lyon 2-2 Shaktar Donetsk (2018)
One of the games Gareth Southgate has reportedly asked his players to study in preparation for Friday is this season’s memorable Champions League clash between Lyon and Shakthar Donetsk.
With Parc Olympique Lyonnais stadium closed to the public due to crowd trouble during Lyon’s game with CSKA Moscow in March, the lack of atmosphere seemed to have rattled the home-side, as Shakthar raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to two stunning goals from Junior Moraes.
However, in a thrilling end-to-end contest, Lyon orchestrated a brilliant comeback thanks to a Moussa Dembele header in the 70th minute and a Leo Dubois goal following minutes later.
The brilliant comeback helped maintain Lyon’s impressive start to the campaign after beating Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City 2-1 in the preceding fixture. It’s almost a shame the Lyon fans weren’t there to celebrate it.
#ChampionsLeague Olympique Lyon played Shakhtar Donetsk behind closed doors last night. This caught my attention. What sticks out is the number of UEFA representatives, 300. There are 16 CL & 24 #EuropaLeague ties this week. Are there 300 at every game? 12,000 people? @UEFA pic.twitter.com/Wderr8M0i9
— David Ross (@RossFootball) October 3, 2018
America 1–2 Tecos UAG (2009)
It’s not just fan violence that’s forced games behind closed doors, with fans prevented from attending the Mexican top-flight fixture between Tecos UAG and America’s game due to safety concerns because of the swine flu virus which at the time had killed 86 and infected over 1,600 people.
With the deadly virus causing disruptions across the country, this wasn’t the only game that weekend to be played without crowds. Two other first division matches games were also forced behind closed doors as a precaution.
Tecos eventually triumphed in an empty 105,000-seater Azteca Stadium, thanks to goals from Carlos Adrian Morales and Mario Ortiz, with Robert de Pinho replying for the home team.
Netherlands 4-0 Cyprus (1987)
When Netherlands and Cyprus’s Euro 88 qualifier was ordered to be replayed after the original game had been marred with violence, it seemed like the Dutch would have to cope with missing out on a resounding 8-0 victory.
Interestingly, the original game hadn’t actually been abandoned. Netherlands had seen their comprehensive victory through to the final whistle, but a home-made bomb thrown onto the pitch meant the result was declared null and void.
The game was eventually replayed two months later. Having been relocated from Rotterdam to the De Meer Stadium in Amsterdam the fixture was played out in front of a stated attendance of 300 staff and media.
Cyprus, actually made a much better fist of this second chance, only conceding the four unanswered goals this time, as John Bosman scored a hat-trick to go with a goal from current Netherlands manager Ronald Koeman.