Perhaps, however, there is an exception. The last nine months of football have been, indirectly, marked by absenteeism: first, for two months, for the sport as a whole, and then, by now, the sport as it should be, Not only a game but a spectacle, contact and a drain for community and family and all those other things that have been lost, sacrificed in far more important ways during this year.
Football has found a way to its credit, playing games on empty seats in empty stadiums and artificial soundtracks on empty seats, mounted on television feeds. It has done the job, as it had to. But there has also been a feeling of regret for each goal that has been scored, also that something was missing, something was not.
However, witnessing the return of the fans was to realize how deep the absence was. Fans are in an honest but abstract way, meaning football, meaning sports. It is the fans who define and determine what all this means. In a more immediate sense, they provide the texture of the occasion that brings it all to life as a lively technicolor.
The roar after a target is, of course, the most obvious example, but the soundscape is far richer, more diverse than that, and often not particularly logically necessary. The loudest cheered here on Saturday, for example, the man who greeted Tomas Susek’s goal that put West Ham ahead. It was dealt by Declan Rice at Ruxford.