We’re all armchair fans now – well, perhaps not in Serbia – and so we were all well placed in front of the television (or tablet, laptop, mobile phone) as La Liga returned with El Gran Derbi and its very Spanish 10pm kick-off time on Thursday.
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The Bundesliga had prepared us for the weirdness we witnessed both on-screen and across social media in the build-up to Sevilla v Real Betis.
The empty stadium. Normal. The lack of pre-match handshakes. Normal. The mask-wearing substitutes. Normal. The heavy police presence outside the stadium. Actually very normal, for a city derby.

Police stand guard prior to the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Betis on June 11, 2020 in Seville, Spain

Image credit: Getty Images

But there was one striking feature of the coverage at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan that went beyond what we have already become accustomed to, and it clearly divided opinion.
Virtual fans could be seen in the lower tiers that were covered by the main television cameras. Sometimes they would disappear, sometimes adverts flashed up instead, but for the majority of the time there was a mish-mash of red and white to represent Sevilla supporters.
Squint and it looked somewhat normal, but for those zeroing in on the crowd it became a competition to decide what this flattened set of fans actually looked like.
Added to this visual dimension was the artificial fan noise, with predominantly home chants the soundtrack to Sevilla’s victory.
It may have been missing the nuances of actual supporters, the oohs, the ahhs, the gasps, the whistles, but that is hardly surprising given the circumstances.

Sevilla FC and Real Betis at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan stadium in Seville

Image credit: Getty Images

And after all, the primary purpose is to enhance the viewing experience for those watching at home. Some will not like it, but there is no denying it is more of a spectacle than what the Bundesliga started out with - and eventually altered.
Furthermore, if someone who has lived under a rock for six months tuned into this match halfway through, then it would have taken them a while to decipher the unusual surroundings and point out the fake fans or artificial noise. (Disclaimer: Rock dwellers are hard to come by, so this cannot be proved wholly true, but it helps make the point that some noise is better than no noise.)
Moving on… The Premier League looks set to follow suit, too, with the Telegraph reporting earlier this week that virtual fan ‘walls’ and pre-recorded chants have been given the green light for games.
Should that arrive when the Premier League does on June 17, then it will create a new wave of debate when those who haven’t watched Bundesliga or La Liga start to tune in as well.
Yes, it’s not football as we know it, everyone knows that, but until fans are back then it will be another aspect of the new normal that we will, eventually, all get used to.

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