One year into the public health crisis, Ryan Clarke laments the absence of fans even more at the start of a new League of Ireland season.

Pandemic football is nothing new at this stage, but pandemic football at the start of a new season has an additional feeling of unfairness.

The bargain we all make before going into a dark and cold Irish winter is that, once we emerge on the other side, we’ll have a new season to dream, debate and rage with mates about.

Admittedly, after the last two games against Finn Harps and Longford Town, most of us would have been doing the latter two instead of dreaming about silverware this year.

This time 12 months ago, the pulse of Phibsborough was beginning to rise. New life once again breathed into the heart of the community. The steady march of Bohemian fans towards Dalymount, their path guided by those famous floodlights.

It’s an altogether different experience 12 months later. It’s a dull, grey Saturday afternoon. Streets that would be packed with parents and children adorned in red and black are instead sparsely populated with people bringing their shopping back from Tesco or out for their daily walk.

Turning up Dalymount lane you’re met with reminders of why we can’t be here: countless blue surgical masks strewn among empty bottles of hand sanitiser. In days gone by, it would be impossible to push past eager fans queuing to get into the ground.

Back in the before times, once inside, and with pint in hand, the next goal is to sneak it up to your usual spot in the Jodi and greet the same old faces that you’ll spend the next seven months embracing and arguing with.

Now though, you rush into the sitting room with a hastily made cup of tea and a half-eaten packet of biscuits as the match kicks off.

“Instead of a cold pigeon poo encrusted plastic seat, you plop down into the same spot on the sofa that you’ve been glued to for the last year”

A minute’s silence to remember all the Bohemians lost in the last year isn’t met with the usual roar of “c’mon Bohs,” but the dim clang of seats as people sit back down.

Without the usual soundtrack of Bohs fans in the Jodi stand, football doesn’t seem right. It’s an intangible asset in a time when football is striving to make everything about the game quantifiable in a dataset.

It’s an asset that may have provided a different outcome to last week’s game. Who’s to say that when Bohs began to fade in the second half that they wouldn’t have gotten a second wind with a round of “Keith Long’s red, black army?”

Who’s to say that after Longford got a goal back that the Jodi wouldn’t have picked the team up and made them see the game out?
Who’s to say that after the equaliser, block F & G wouldn’t have sucked the ball into the net for a last minute winner and the crazed celebrations that we all miss?

One particular “volunteer” questioned every decision that went against Bohs. Pandemic or not, at least every referee and linesman in the country knows that they won’t get an easy day in Dalymount – even if the Jodi is empty. Nature is healing.

Ryan Clarke is an RTÉ journalist and Bohemian FC member. He has written and reported for RTÉ, The Irish Times, The Sunday Times, other outlets.
He is also a regular contributor to the Bohemians match programme. Follow on Twitter @RyanCIarke