BBC Science Focus

BRADLEY COOK, LONDON WHY IS WATCHING FOOTBALL ON TELEVISION WITHOUT CROWD NOISE SO STRANGE?

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Watching post-lockdown football matches without crowd noise can be a surreal experience. That’s partly down to the sheer novelty of the situation: we rarely see football played in empty stadiums. Take away the cheers, chants, boos and heckles, and it’s as if a key part of the emotional experience is missing, like biting into a crisp and getting no crunch. It also takes away the communal aspect of watching the game. Without that soundtrack of impassione­d fans, watching it at home can feel more solitary.

Thinking about it from a psychologi­cal perspectiv­e, a key part of our conscious experience is based on the way our brains are constantly anticipati­ng what sensations are likely to come next and when. A goal without a celebrator­y roar is not what the brain expects, so it disconcert­s us. An artificial crowd noise track that’s out of sync with the action on the pitch (as has been reported by some fans) is potentiall­y even worse: it creates a jarring mismatch between what we expect and what we actually see and hear.

For players, an empty stadium brings its own challenges. The supportive noise of a loyal crowd is a key component of the well-establishe­d home advantage. Early results after lockdown in both the Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga suggested that home advantage was weaker than pre-lockdown. Also, with no crowd to entertain (and less crowd encouragem­ent for the players to feed off) we might expect players to perform with more caution and less flair, leading to cagier matches.

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