Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19

I’m Gustav Ahmeti and the stadium spokesman for the Grasshopper Club Zurich, a traditional club in Swiss football that is known far beyond the country’s borders among connoisseurs.

By Gustav Ahmeti

Despite 27 championship titles and winning the trophy 19 times, it was last handed over in March 2013 when the series champions FC Basel were brought to their knees in a heart-stopping Cup Final.

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Photo: ZVG

“3 LETTERS, 2 COLOURS, 1  LEADERSHIP”

However, the dreary reality in February 2020 paints a very different picture. After an eventful season with fans rioting and the abandonment of games, we have been starving in the Challenge League, the second highest division in Switzerland since 2019.

Riots, torch lighting and attacks on officials have unfortunately become customary in football, but honestly they would not be worth an article of their own (anymore). So let’s get back to the circumstances. A reality that no one would have thought possible just a few months ago, a reality that is difficult and even more so to get used to.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: ZVG

March 17th, the lockdown is imposed on Switzerland. Conveniently, it is also the day I am to meet with my work colleagues for the director’s meeting for the upcoming game against FC Aarau in the Letzigrund stadium.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: Frasca Claudio

While we were debating the details of the match, we received a phone call from the club presidium that all competitions in professional football had been suspended for an indefinite period.

Confused, rigid and empty, our eyes wander from the box into the wide area around the stadium. The state government speaks on the television, which is now switched on. To support the cantons in the hospitals, with logistics and in the security area, the Federal Council has just approved the deployment of up to 8,000 military personnel. Without a word and falling into apathy, we listen to the words of Alain Berset. Switzerland, a country that has kept itself more or less harmless in two world wars, has declared a state of emergency. For once, football and our usual discussion points, are not just a colloquial matter.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: Frasca Claudio

On April 27,  marks the day that some normality will return to us with garden centres, hairdressers and markets set to reopen with elementary schools following close suit on May 17. But events and by association, sport, are not mentioned “yet” with any syllable. Due to a lack of audience income and sponsorship money, not only the sports clubs, but also stadium operators, suppliers and entire industry branches, such as events and entertainment are in limbo. The Federal Council reacts and gives the top leagues in Swiss ice hockey and football an emergency loan of 150 million francs. Uff, for now our wages are secured …

“SHIMMER OF HOPE IN THE BEGINNING OF MAY”

At the end of May, the representatives of the Swiss football clubs meet at an extraordinary general assembly in Bern. The majority of club representatives spoke out against the abandonment of the game and in favor of the resumption of the top two divisions from June 19. According to SFL CEO, Claudius Schäfer, spectators are allowed to a very limited extent, as events for up to 300 people will become possible from June 6th. Good news for me – stadium announcers are the duty of the hosting club even when the number of spectators is limited.

June 19th, 117 days after the last competitive game, I’m back at my old place of work. I am meeting my work colleagues for the directors’ meeting for the first time since the Corona outbreak. Joy prevails in seeing all the familiar faces, in the knowledge that things finally seem on the up.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: Frasca Claudio

The strict mask requirement in the catacombs of the arena only adds to the somewhat surreal atmosphere before the game that is unparalleled to the usual anticipation. Far and wide there are no fan scarves and jerseys to be seen, let alone fan chants on the way to the stadium. Apart from a few graffiti and other murals, nothing on this Friday indicates that a football game by the Swiss champions will take place here in a few hours. Sure, the increased presence of the police is obvious, and the sports coverage on the car radio is a welcome change from the rest of the past days and weeks, but how will it be in the stadium? For now, as always, the schedule is adhered to by the second in typical Swiss manner, and individual meetings with media, security and in-house directing take place as if Corona had never happened.

Looking through the glass facade outside, this suddenly changes. In the stands, eager helpers assemble 3,000 cardboard figures into the bucket seats, previously purchased by fans. A so-called replacement for the physical absence of those who have always remained loyal to the club. It is not only great to look at, but emotive. Despite all this, the acoustics, the colorful, busy hustle and bustle, the noticeable anticipation and excitement in the stands are missing.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: ZVG

Normally, now would have been the time for me to take the road to the fan curve. Always accompanied – even after seven seasons as a stadium announcer – by a positive, nervous butterfly feeling in the stomach. Standing in front of the wall, I greet the fans and give a motivational speech, followed by a presentation of the individual players of our team to roaring and cheering.

Stadium announcer in times of Covid 19
Photo: ZVG

Nothing is normal on this Friday evening, at least nothing as far as my work is concerned. I present the team line-ups as a church dignitary reads mass for his acolytes. The goals – and there will be plenty of them this evening, notably for our colors – are presented with the euphoria of a Swiss news program in the early 1950s. The substitutions are more reminiscent of a department store announcement for a found child than the emotionally charged introduction carried by the audience, pre-corona time.

 

From October 1, more than 5000 spectators are to be admitted to the Swiss league. I long for this date and I hope that all visitors adhere to the guidelines so that teams can play in front of large crowds once more, permanently.

Because a stadium speaker without fans is like a conductor without an orchestra.

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