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EXCLUSIVE | ‘Soulless’ atmosphere at England v Croatia game – Henry Winter

The Times Chief Football Writer gives his verdict on the behind closed doors Nations League fixture between Croatia and England.

The Times Chief Football Writer, Henry Winter, on a recent visit to the University of Gloucestershire.

The Times Chief Football Writer, Henry Winter, has described the atmosphere at Friday’s Nations League friendly between Croatia and England as ‘chilling and soulless’.

The match at Stadion Kantrida was played behind closed doors after the Croatians were hit with a two-game stadium ban for an incident which occurred in 2015.

Before a European Championship qualifier against Italy, a fan stormed the pitch and mowed a swastika onto the playing surface which was seen by viewers around the world.

That led to no supporters from either side being allowed to watch the match from within the stadium confines, creating a mysteriously eerie environment for both sides, something Winter feels proves how important fans are in the modern era.

In a show of solidarity, some England fans disobeyed UEFA orders when still travelling out to Croatia and watching the game from their own vantage point – a hill overlooking the stadium.

They sang to their hearts content, trying to produce at least some kind of atmosphere, as the die-hards simply refused not to watch their team. It was the first time in 988 senior England fixtures that they had played an international fixture behind closed doors.

In the end, England couldn’t avenge their World Cup Semi-Final defeat 93 days ago as the sides played out a boring 0-0 draw – clearly a lack of intensity for a soulless game.

The official attendance of the game will be written in the history books as zero, but in reality, around 500 people were invited to watch the contest.

That was broken down into about 150 members of the world’s media, 75 people from the Football Association of each respective nation and the rest made up of stadium security and/or police.

You could probably hear a pin drop in the stadium should you have been lucky enough to be invited to the match – but it was a timely reminder that it was a night to forget for football.

 

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