Football in Denmark returns to action with fans taking their usual places via Zoom. Fans were visible on pitchside screens as host team tried to make the best of playing a vital derby game behind closed doors.
Last night, Denmark became the second country in mainland Europe to restart their football season, after Germany. In the opening fixture AGF Aarhus welcomed local rivals Randers, but it was on the sidelines where history was being made. In front of one stand a giant screen, 40m x 3m, filled with fans watching via Zoom.
Supporters signed up for free tickets to take part and even chose their preferred section of the “virtual stand”. Two smaller screens allowed for neutrals and away fans to be there, too. The concept, created in partnership with Zoom, took weeks of preparation. “I’ve never been so busy before a game, which is funny when there are no spectators,” says AGF’s head of media, Soren Carlsen. “My colleagues, to put it bluntly, have been working their arses off to get everything working.”
The screens were the final piece of the puzzle, dropped into place on Wednesday at Ceres Park. The fans formed a digital backdrop for watching TV viewers. A rather better idea than the South Korean football team that 'accidentally' stuffed the stands with sex dolls and ended up having to apologise.
On Thursday night, fans in different sections were encouraged to sing in unison. Prior to kick off a spokesman said: “We’re trying to create an atmosphere around the game. Players will be able to see the supporters and we hope they will be able to hear them chanting. They think it’s great that we’re trying something new.”
“When you go to football, it’s a community experience. That is lacking right now because of coronavirus. This is a chance for people to get together.”
Life under lockdown inspired the idea, with Carlsen and his colleagues keeping in touch with furloughed colleagues via Zoom. “We thought: ‘Could we use this technology in stadiums?’” The club have had enquiries from all over Europe about replicating the idea and Carlsen can see potential for it to feature across a number of different sports.
A team of more than 20 were on standby to try and make sure the game went off without a hitch, including moderators to tackle any fans causing offence. History doesn't yet relate how they got on...
The long-term goal is, obviously, to have fans back in the ground and there are still faint hopes that small crowds could return before the end of the season.
The club has a history of blazing a trail – they played in the first European Cup – and Carlsen already has one eye on his next big idea. “We could have 1,000 fans, picked in a lottery and safely distanced. What an exciting day that would be. I would rather have 10 fans here than an empty stadium. It makes the world of difference.”