There was enough interest, though, for Sky Germany's coverage of the first round of games -headlined by Dortmund's derby with its fierce rival, Schalke - in this bleak new world to -

To draw in six million viewers, a record, each of them watching from home, atomized and all but alone, a tribe still bound by its colors but unable to gather under its flag.

To some, what they watched was not soccer but mere business, a transaction devoid of emotion, an event held simply to protect a broadcasting revenues.

Sport, after all, does not have an inherent purpose, we imbue it with meaning, with consequence, and the fans in the stands serve as avatars for the millions watch at home, their reaction shaping and reflecting ours

Most of Germany's powerful organized fan groups had made it plain that games played in isolation, without the public, without the spectacle, could only mean nothing.

A slim banner was displayed in the stands for Augsburg's game with Wolfsburg : ''Soccer will survive,'' it read. ''It's your business that is sick.''

In those first few minutes of play last Saturday, as the players tried to shake off the rust in front of gray, still stands in six cities, and two more on  Sunday, it was hard not to wander whether it had any meaning at all.

It was not a spectacle. Without the spectacle, it is hard to call it a business. Without the business, the sport - at least in its current form - cannot go on.

But then, with a little more than half an hour played, something happened...................

Dortmund's Julian Brandt flicked the ball into the path of his teammate Thorgan Hazard. His cross evaded Schalke's defense.

As soon as you leave Dortmund's central station, you see the black and yellow. Decked out in the team's colors, Borussia Dortmund's club shop draws the eye from across the square.

In the city center, the smiling faces of Borussia players seem to beam out from every other billboard. In the suburbs, flags and banners hang from streetlights.

There are people wearing scarves, hats and jerseys, whether it is a match day or not, binding everything together in black and yellow.

After a while, Dortmund starts to feel less like a city that happens to home to a soccer team and more like a soccer team that has somehow generated a city around it.

Soccer is a game, of course. But it is also a sport, which is what a game becomes when enough people invest in it emotionally or financially.

And it is a business, too, which is how the emotional investment generates a return on the financial. But it is also - maybe it is mostly - a form of identity, a sense of belonging.

That is true everywhere, but it is in places like Dortmund where it most easily drifts into focus : a city given over to a team, where in the hours before a game everyone seems to be talking about the same subject, walking in the same direction, dreaming of the same outcome.

Soccer did not return to Dortmund, and to the rest of Germany's Bundesliga, over the weekend. Rather a new form of its unwanted, unavoidable short-term future - made its debut : acoustic, pared  back, stripped of the spectacle that lends it power.

The streets were quiet. The stadiums, guarded by the police and ringed with steel, were empty.

Many of the bars and restaurants permitted to open choose to remain closed, mindful of the virus's risks, fearful of the consequences of even small gatherings.

Many of the fans who might packed them, once upon a time, had tuned out.

Erling Haaland took two paces, opened his body, and steered the ball home : the first goal of soccer's immediate future.

In that moment, you could see the  beyond the silence and the grayness and the sorrow, beneath the business and and the sport, that soccer is just a game. But it is a good game.

The World Students Society thanks author, Rory Smith.


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