Have Premier League games been played behind closed doors before?

Games have already been played without fans in the Champions League and beyond due to the coronavirus outbreak, but has it happened before?

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to sideline the world of sport, it seems more and more likely that games will have to be played behind closed doors if competitions are to be finished.

In England, the FA has confirmed that no professional football will take place until at least April 30 as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

If and when the Premier League does return, it will almost certainly be played without fans as has already happened in Serie A, the Champions League, Europa League and other tournaments.

Fans and players alike noted the strangeness of seeing top-level sport played in empty stadiums – Erling Haaland described the experience as “sh*t” – but has it happened before?

Have Premier League games been played behind closed doors before?

No game in the Premier League has ever been played behind closed doors.

However, a number of Premier League teams have been made to play games behind closed doors in other competitions.

Recently, Manchester United travelled to LASK in the Europa League to play the first leg of their last-16 tie behind closed doors. Odion Ighalo made the headlines with a stunning goal in a 5-0 win for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, though the second leg has been postponed.

In October, Wolves’ away game at Slovan Bratislava in the same competition was ordered to be played behind closed doors because of racist chanting and banners during one of the home side’s earlier games in the competition.

Instead, Bratislava found a loophole. Slovan were allowed to hand out tickets to local schools, so around 20,000 children watched the game as Wolves came from behind to win 2-1.

In 2014, Manchester City travelled to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. The match was played behind closed doors due to serious disturbances from the Russian side’s fans during a 5-1 defeat at Roma.

City led 2-0 through goals from Sergio Aguero and James Milner, but eventually drew the game 2-2.

Manchester City CSKA Moscow 2014

Before the Premier League era, West Ham played out a famous game in front of empty stands in the 1980 UEFA Cup.

The Hammers were playing Real Madrid’s Castilla side, and were punished for crowd trouble during their 3-1 first-leg defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu.

However, West Ham levelled the tie 4-4 inside 90 minutes, before scoring twice in extra time to win 5-1 on the night and 6-4 overall.

Two years later, European Cup winners Aston Villa began their defence of the crown at an empty Villa Park in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon.

They were punished for fans’ rioting at a match in Anderlecht the previous April.

What other leagues have seen games behind closed doors?

Before the coronavirus outbreak, a number of games in Europe’s top leagues had already been played behind closed doors.

In 2017, Barcelona beat Las Palmas 3-0 at Camp Nou with no fans following violence in Catalonia due to the Catalan Independence Referendum on the same day.

Barcelona Las Palmas 2017

Barca had requested to postpone the game but were denied by the Spanish Football League (LFP), and opted to play behind closed doors as a fans’ safety measure.

There have also been examples in Serie A.

A number of games were played behind closed doors in 2007 after a policeman was killed during rioting at a game between Catania and Palermo, with clubs having to adhere to updated security regulations before fans could return.

In 2009, Juventus drew 2-2 with Atalanta in an empty stadium after Juve fans had racially abused an 18-year-old Mario Balotelli during a game against Inter.

Mario Balotelli Inter Juventus 2009

A bizarre example occurred in the Netherlands in early 2012. A KNVB Cup fourth-round game between Ajax and AZ was abandoned after AZ goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado retaliated against an attack from a pitch invader.

Alvarado was sent off, and AZ left the pitch in protest. After the game, the red card was rescinded by the KNVB and the match replayed behind closed doors.

Ajax apologised for the incident, were fined €10,000, and banned the fan from their stadium for 30 years.