By playing a frontline role in society’s response to the COVID-19 virus, European football showed the power of the beautiful game to touch people’s lives, even in the hardest times.
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It was billed as a year when European football would unite to celebrate 60 years of EUROs by staging a tournament bridging 12 countries. In 2020, national associations, leagues, clubs and fans did indeed come together, but not for EURO 2020, which UEFA postponed by 12 months in response to the global pandemic.
Instead, from grassroots to elite level, Europe’s most popular sport rallied to the common cause of helping society cope with the health and financial consequences of national lockdowns.
Football-inspired initiatives included: raising funds to purchase medical equipment; producing training videos about staying fit at home; delivering food to the elderly and vulnerable; transforming stadiums into temporary hospitals and storage centres - or using the game’s enormous reach to deliver vital public health messages.
We close an unforgettable year by recalling several heart-warming examples of the football community’s greater power for good:
The fans play their part
With witty, cleverly written songs, jaw-dropping tifos and logistical expertise aplenty, clubs' supporters' groups are very well-organised and proud bodies. It was only natural that when the coronavirus struck, they were among the first to help local communities in whatever way they could.
There are countless stories of generosity, collaboration and heroism, among them the Fans Supporting Foodbanks group. Made up of rival Everton and Liverpool supporters, members combined to feed vulnerable people across the city, creating a food hub to fill the gap left by the collections usually held at football matches.
The group then turned their attention to supporting key workers, creating the Merseyside Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Hub. With their partners, they helped produce and distribute more than 25,000 visors, hundreds of scrubs and more than 3,000 face masks across the region. Not content, they then sent a further 5,000 protective visors to key workers based in other cities across the United Kingdom.
A Europe-wide response
"I cannot just sit and do nothing. I would like to support doctors and nurses who have to work hard for all of us now to heal the world," said PSV's Czech midfielder Michal Sadílek after he donated funds to a hospital in his hometown.
Sadílek’s kind gesture and warm sentiment echoed far and wide across Europe. Football's enormous popularity and reach allowed its main protagonists to deliver important messages across the continent as well as critical funding support. We profiled some of the responses from national associations as everybody dug in to help.
Honouring the sacrifice
By August, UEFA club competitions were able to resume behind closed doors for a unique series of single-leg final eight tournaments, staged in Germany, Portugal and Spain.
At the first round of matches, a minute's silence was held to pay tribute to the lives lost during the pandemic, while throughout the tournament, teams wore the words 'Thank You' on their shirts to honour those key workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.
It was a gesture seen across the world, with some clubs taking to raising funds for charity by selling these limited-edition shirts.
Clubs' community contributions
Ahead of the return to play of UEFA’s club competitions, UEFA.com shone a light on the efforts of participating clubs to support their communities. Every single one had a story to highlight.
Champions League highlights included Atletico Madrid's virtual press conferences for supporters, keeping them in touch with players throughout the shutdown, and Chelsea making their on-site hotel rooms available to key workers on the frontline of the pandemic.
Eventual winners Bayern put their on-pitch rivalries with Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Bayer Leverkusen aside to establish a solidarity fund worth up to €20m to help clubs in both the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga struggling to cope with the economic consequences of football’s shutdown.
Women's Champions League clubs were no less active. Part-time Glasgow City's Hayley Sinclair continued her work as a care worker, and team-mate Jo Love works for Glasgow Scientific Services in a team that turned their expertise to making hand sanitiser for front-line staff.
In the Europa League, finalists Inter donated one million masks to Italy's National Civil Protection agency, as well as launching a crowdfunding scheme in aid of vaccine research which raised €658,000.
Shakhtar players Andriy Pyatov and Sergii Kryvtsov appeared in a series of 12 educational videos teaching schoolchildren exercises to perform at home during the country’s lockdown, with the club also providing 20,000 coronavirus test kits for medical institutions in the Kharkiv region.
It truly has been a year that we will never forget - not least, for the solidarity demonstrated by European football's many stakeholders, and the industry's collective sense of responsibility towards its communities.