On March 8th, 2020, 75,000 people packed into the Allianz Arena.
The week prior, Bayern Munich had gotten itself into trouble when their ultras protested at the PreZero Arena in Sinsheim during a 6-0 beatdown of Hoffenheim. Bayern had hoped that this day, one where the club celebrated its 120th Anniversary, would be a momentous one.
There were special kits for this occasion; white with maroon sleeves — a throwback to the first uniforms Bayern ever wore. It was a Bavarian Derby as well: Bayern hosted FC Augsburg.
A Jérôme Boateng lofted through ball found the foot of Thomas Müller in the 53’ to put Bayern up 1-0. The score remained that way for the majority of the second half, until some dinky passes in the box between Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka led to the latter rolling the ball past Augsburg keeper Andreas Luthe to make things 2-0.
It was a joyous celebration in Munich.
One can only imagine the devastation it led to.
The virus known scientifically as SARS-CoV-2 was identified in December of 2019. By January 27th, 2020, the first German case was identified in Bavaria. A scientific journal in May 2020 identified Germany’s “Patient 0” as a Chinese national visiting the area on a business trip. Without knowing it, and without fault, this person spread a virus that nobody could control.
This match against Augsburg holds importance beyond being Bayern’s last game before lockdown: 1) It was the last match to have hosted over 60,000 people in Germany 2) it was the largest match attended in the country that weekend 3) it was the second largest match played in Europe’s top five leagues (Barcelona packed 77,000 into the Camp Nou for a 1-0 win over Real Sociedad).
Things moved in the world rapidly after this match. Italy, already devastated by the virus and at the time was the second largest hotspot in the world after China, suspended their season the following day — March 9th.
However, games across Europe continued to be played.
The last game in Germany to hold fans was the second leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 between RB Leipzig and Tottenham Hotspur. Despite recommendations from the Federal Minister of Health to cancel events with more than 1,000 people, the government of Lower Saxony allowed the game to be played in front of over 42,000 fans at the Red Bull Arena.
The following day saw three momentous occasions for Germans. The first two dealt with additional second legs in the Round of 16. Paris Saint-Germain knocked Borussia Dortmund out with a 2-0 win in an empty Parc des Princes. The other match saw German manager Jurgen Klopp get knocked out with Atletico Madrid beating his Liverpool side 3-2 in front of a packed Anfield crowd which was the last UEFA Champions League game to host fans. Klopp later referred to this game as a “biological bomb.”
The third occasion was a sign of what was to come. Borussia Mönchengladbach played host to FC Köln in an empty Borussia-Park. This game — the Rhineland Derby — would normally be a raucous occasion and a lively atmosphere.
Instead, it was quiet.
The first “geisterspiele” had taken place in Germany.
The dominos fell in swift succession. That same day, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Later that evening, the NBA became the first major sports league in the world to suspend its season. The next day — March 12th — the NHL, MLB, and NCAA halted all their activities.
And then the next day came. March 13th. After debating whether to hold a game between Bayern and Union Berlin, the Bundesliga suspended its season. So did La Liga. Then Ligue 1. Then the Premier League.
In one week, the world had gone from business as usual to the societal equivalent of rigor mortis.
Football was dead.
It stopped existing, along with the rest of the world outside the walls of wherever you lived. Lives were destroyed in both the literal and figurative sense. Jobs were lost, schools were closed, and people around the world were dying.
It took time for the healing process to begin, and in many ways, it’s still beginning. For many, having sports to watch is a way to heal and come together, which is something we all need. For a long time, we didn’t have that.
But it was the Bundesliga who got that ball rolling.
Germany followed the rules. They stayed quarantined. On May 6th, 2020, the league announced it would be coming back. Ten days later, they did just that. The Bundesliga came back with no fans — ironic considering the first game played was the Revierderby. But the world had something to watch. Sports fans had something to watch.
And with everyone safe, and the minimal amount of people possible, the healing process could begin.
Things caught on slowly for some countries, but Germany reaped the rewards of staying inside. Restrictions were tight, testing was constant, and the punishments were severe. But — for the most part — people listened.
Bundesliga fans who feared their teams would no longer exist began tuning in and watching games. TV revenues began going to clubs which helped keep them afloat. Jobs were saved, fans — by virtue of not being in attendance — were saved, the season was saved.
In more ways than one, the Bundesliga returning saved lives. It saved livelihoods. In more ways than one, the league being able to finish began the process of healing and restoring humanity to the world. The Bundesliga served as a model for what other sports leagues should do to stay safe.
What happened in the months to follow was nothing short of miraculous.
The 2019/2020 Ligue 1 season was the only casualty among the major sports leagues in the world. We crowned champions all over the world. The Premier League crowned a champion. UEFA crowned a champion. Major League Baseball crowned a World Series champion, using a model that was the most similar to how the Bundesliga operated post-suspension.
The Bundesliga took a risk being the first man through the wall. But, they did things right. No Bundesliga player has died due to this virus. Many have caught it, but suspended play and postponed matches saved the lives of the players, the referees, and club employees big and small.
And now here we stand, one year on from the one of the worst weeks in modern human history. We have never been closer to finding a cure for this virus. Vaccines have been tested, developed, and administered to millions around the world - soon to be given to millions more.
Restrictions are beginning to be relaxed. Soon, travel will return, venues will open, and people will be able to interact with each other without the fear of spreading or catching the virus.
And yes, soon people will come back to stadiums. Fans will once again fill the terraces and the stands. The ghost games will be exorcised and relegated to the dustbin of history. Dave Grohl once said, “It’s times like these you learn to live again,” and that time is quickly approaching.
One year ago, we were all suddenly thrust into a darkness from which we have yet to recover. But, if you look hard enough into the horizon, you can see it: The sun is starting to rise again.