La Liga Lowdown
When Did LaLiga Teams Last Play Behind Closed Doors?
Written by Sam Leveridge
LaLiga is gearing up for its first-ever matchday of games played behind closed doors as it prepares to return to action. The last resort, and one that Javier Tebas is working to change as soon as he can, has been enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
After 93 days without a game, longer than eight of the last nine summer breaks, LaLiga is back. But it’s not just rusty legs that players will have to tend with. Many will face the prospect of playing in an empty stadium for the first time.
As highlighted in our preview of LaLiga’s return, the impact could be significant. In the Bundesliga, since the season restarted, home wins account for just 21% of results, compared to a season average of 40%. Not having fans to cheer players on could yet have a substantial say in the relegation fight and the title race.
But just when were the last times that each LaLiga team played behind closed doors? Here, we’ve dived into the history books to pick out the most recent occasions for most of the teams in Spain’s top flight.
Valencia (3-4 defeat vs Atalanta at Mestalla, 10 March 2020, Champions League)
The last time football was played in Spain. Valencia’s clash with Atalanta in Milan was controversial at the time and has only caused more outrage since, and the return leg was just the same. Visiting coach Gian Piero Gasperini even confessed to having symptoms of coronavirus while he sat in the dugout at Mestalla. It was the first time Mestalla hosted a match without spectators since 2006 and it didn’t go according to plan, Valencia unable to turn around a substantial first-leg deficit.
Eibar & Real Sociedad (1-2 win for La Real at Estadio Ipurúa, 10 March 2020, LaLiga)
To date, the only LaLiga fixture to have been played behind closed doors due to COVID-19, and it took place just hours before Valencia kicked off at Mestalla. Home advantage disappeared for Eibar, as Real Sociedad ran out victors with goals from Mikel Oyarzabal and Willian José before Charles scored a consolation penalty late on. This match served as the experiment for LaLiga to test new fan interaction elements and atmosphere which could be deployed across the league in the weeks to come.
Barcelona (3-0 win vs Las Palmas at Camp Nou, 1 October 2017, LaLiga)
An unofficial referendum on independence held across Catalunya led to signs of violence as police and protestors clashed with those wishing to vote. There were also fears that these protests could stretch to Camp Nou, with rumours circulating of pitch invasions and more. Just hours before kick-off, the decision was made that the game would go ahead, but behind closed doors. There was still a pitch invader who found his way into the stadium, but it caused minimal disruption, and in the end it was a routine win for Barcelona with fans enjoying the opportunity to see Luis Suárez swearing at referees from close up.
Real Madrid (3-3 draw vs Legia Warsaw at Marshall Józef Piłsudski's Municipal Stadium, 2 November 2016, Champions League)
Legia Warsaw’s return to the Champions League didn’t get off to the start many were hoping for as ultras pepper-sprayed security staff at their own ground against Borussia Dortmund, while 13 were arrested for smashing up shops and bars around the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. UEFA reacted by shutting the doors to the 31,000 fans who would have attended the game, and would have earned the club more than €1 million. Zinedine Zidane insisted that he would prefer to play with fans, whether at home or away, but in a rollercoaster encounter Real Madrid took a two-goal lead only to go behind 3-2. Mateo Kovacic popped up with five minutes left to avoid an historic humiliation. The last time a game without fans took place at the Bernabéu was even longer ago - back in 1987 when Diego Maradona’s Napoli came to the Spanish capital.
Celta Vigo (final 31 minutes of a 1-0 win vs Cartagena at Municipal Stadium Cartagonova, 8 May 2012, Segunda División)
As Celta returned to the top flight, they did so with half an hour played behind closed doors. An object was thrown at a linesman by Cartagena fans in the stands, and referee Pino Zamorano opted to call the game off. The remaining 31 minutes wouldn’t be played until one month and one day later, but it would feature three of the current squad in Sergio Álvarez, Hugo Mallo and Iago Aspas.
Granada & RCD Mallorca (final 30 minutes of a 2-2 draw at Estadio Nuevo Los Cármenes, 7 December 2011, LaLiga)
An hour had been played in this encounter before another object was thrown at another linesman, this time coming from Granada fans. The club were forced to pay a €6,000 fine and play the remaining half an hour behind closed doors. Taking place two-and-a-half weeks after the initial hour and with Granada leading, Joaquin Caparrós made six changes to his Mallorca team to give a far more offensive look to his side, and it worked as Israeli striker Tomer Hemed converted an equaliser from the penalty spot to earn a point.
Atlético Madrid (2-1 win vs PSV Eindhoven at the Estadio Vicente Calderón, 26 November 2008, Champions League)
Violent scenes as Atleti ultras clashed with their counterparts from Olympique Marseille in their last Champions League clash at the Estadio Vicente Calderón meant that UEFA felt compelled to take action. Atlético fans still gathered outside the stadium to cheer on their team from the other side of the walls of the sporting arena. Speaking to MARCA recently, Simão Sabrosa recalled that "it was a cold day and not feeling the heat of the fans left us frozen, but we could hear people outside the stadium who came to support us." Since opening, the Estadio Wanda Metropolitano has never been closed to fans.
Sevilla & Real Betis (final 34 minutes of a 1-0 Sevilla win at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, 20 March 2007, Copa del Rey)
Perhaps the most unusual game on this list, much like a return to action in 2020, it was a Seville derby played behind closed doors. After the match began in Seville, a water bottle thrown from the stands hit Sevilla coach Juande Ramos just after Freddie Kanouté’s opener and the game was suspended. They moved it to Getafe’s ground, the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, to be concluded, where neither team got off the mark. Thursday’s clash at the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán will have a very different atmosphere.
Espanyol (2-1 win vs Livorno at the Stadio Armando Picchi, 14 February 2007, UEFA Cup)
The death of an Italian policeman at a fixture in Catania a week before the fixture meant that drastic measures were taken by the Italian government, including the option to ban fans from attending this last-32 first leg match in the UEFA Cup. In total, there were around 300 people allowed in, including officials and press, to watch as Los Periquitos won 2-1 thanks to goals from Walter Pandiani and Moha. Espanyol saw out the tie and eventually reached that season’s final, where they lost to Sevilla on penalties at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Osasuna (2-2 draw vs Trabzonspor at the Hüseyin Avni Aker, 14 September 2006, UEFA Cup)
Another LaLiga side who were forced to play behind closed doors in Europe. Trabzonspor’s crowd trouble meant that Osasuna were not allowed to take any travelling fans and played out their UEFA Cup tie in an empty stadium. Much like other European ties listed here, there were plenty of goals. After Osasuna took a two-goal lead, they went on to surrender it entirely with Umut Bulut scoring an 89th-minute equaliser. Luckily, the two away goals were enough to see them through to the group stage after a 0-0 draw in the second leg.
For many LaLiga clubs, this weekend will bring a first in their history. Athletic Club have been forced to play away from San Mamés on four occasions, but have never played without fans. Villarreal, Levante and Real Valladolid are just some of the teams to never have played without fans present. As LaLiga enters into a new era, without fans, these teams will have some adapting and getting used to to do.
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