History

In pictures: The story of football without fans one year on

Remarkably it was on this day last year, 8 March 2020, that Stamford Bridge was most recently full to capacity.

Twelve long months have elapsed since we thumped Everton 4-0 in front of an adoring home crowd, with the global pandemic subsequently placing restrictions on our lives like we could never have imagined.

As with so much of society, football was put on hold, and when it did resume, games took place behind closed doors in empty arenas up and down the country. Save for the brief allowance of a small number of supporters in December, that remains the case today. How greatly they are missed.

Everton are our latest visitors tonight and, by chance, it was they who were our final guests with the Bridge brimming and buoyant before everything changed. It is a sad landmark and one we have marked with a collection of photos summing up the extraordinary nature of a most unusual year…

Olivier Giroud leaps for joy as the West Stand Lower in the background rise to their feet to acclaim our fourth goal against Everton. It would prove the last we scored in front of a full house.

Willian takes a short corner as the Matthew Harding Stand watches on. He and Pedro would both score in their final games wearing Chelsea blue with fans in attendance. 

The fixture board at Stamford Bridge pictured on 14 March 2020, the day the Premier League confirmed it would be suspending fixtures until early the next month after a number of people at clubs, including our own Callum Hudson-Odoi, tested positive for coronavirus. The league would be suspended once more before being postponed indefinitely. Our game against Watford would not take place until 4 July. 

The Butcher's Hook, a pub opposite Stamford Bridge, asks a pertinent question. 

The whole country soon entered a full lockdown, with outside exercise limited to an hour a day. Here's captain Cesar Azpilicueta working out in his garden, with the photo credit going to his wife!

Willy Caballero resorted to training with his family in the back garden.

Meanwhile, the nation recognised the heroic efforts of the NHS and other key workers with a weekly clap, including outside the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital a few hundred yards from the Bridge. Chelsea Football Club helped the cause by hosting and feeding NHS workers at our hotels, among a number of other initiatives. 

In May, the Premier League announced a Return to Training protocol with the support of the government and club doctors. Socially-distanced training in small groups resumed at Cobham on Tuesday 19 May. This was as close as our photographer was allowed!

His zoom could capture Jorginho's uncut hair, though, with hairdressers having been closed since late March!

The following week, contact training returned. Players continued to change and shower at home and sessions were limited to 75 minutes. 

By the end of May, the news millions had hoped for came. The Premier League would resume on 17 June. To build up match fitness, an in-house training game took place at Stamford Bridge with the unusual sight of a Chelsea home team playing a Chelsea away team.

Our first assignment was at Villa Park, and then-manager Frank Lampard conducted his pre-match press conference over Zoom - a lockdown essential - in an empty media room at Cobham. 

Away from the pandemic, there was the tragic death of George Floyd in America. To show solidarity, players wore shirts with Black Lives Matter on the back for the first fixture and took the knee before kick-off, an act that continues to this day. The vast swathes of empty seats at Villa Park were to become an increasingly familiar sight...

Next up was our first home match behind closed doors, with the Shed End goal getting disinfected here.

Where once fans sat, now our substitutes spread out to take in the action against Manchester City.

Willian rifles home the winning goal from the spot as a spookily eery East Stand looms large. The Brazilian became the first Chelsea player to score penalties in three successive Premier League matches, and, unusually, the first man to score in every month after his brace at West Ham a few days later. 

A good late-season run saw us finish fourth and book a place in the FA Cup final, although Wembley Way looked a bit different from usual on matchday...

90,000 empty seats made it a Cup final unlike any other as the players' shouts and screams echoed around the national stadium. We led through Christian Pulisic but Arsenal fought back to lift the trophy. 

With UEFA allowing host countries to dictate the rules on fans' attendance for European games, a crowd of nearly 30,000 watched us play Krasnodar in southern Russia. A small local following enjoyed a comfortable 4-0 victory. 

In the UK, after a summer of relative freedom, lockdown returned in November. When it ended, a small number of supporters, 1500 in our case, were permitted to return to Stamford Bridge. For those lucky enough to get tickets for the game against Leeds and Krasnodar, the arrival process looked a little different...

A one-way system in place as supporters make their way up the steps in the West Lower.

Socially-distanced supporters watch on as Chelsea take a corner...

...and join in the celebrations as an old rival are beaten 3-1. Supporters returned a few days later to see us host Krasnodar in the Champions League. That was our most recent home game with fans and the unprecedented experience is summed up in the video below.


Saturday 12 December 2020...

...and a trip to Goodison Park. With supporters permitted in the Merseyside region too that has been our only domestic away game with supporters this season. 

In January we announced the appointment of Thomas Tuchel as our new head coach. The masks made the signing photo look a bit different from usual!

Just as in other areas of life, parts of the 'new normal' have become, well, normal. Here, the visiting Manchester United players make their entrance in our most recent home game. Away team players come through the groundsmen's tunnel having got changed in the Health Club at the back of the Bridge. 

It is just a football match, after all, but what will never sound or look normal is the absence of supporters. Hopefully that will change very soon and the Bridge can be bouncing again. 

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