Reporting from behind closed doors

What has it been like to report on this unprecedented tournament?

Stadion Köln will be empty for the final
Stadion Köln will be empty for the final Manchester United via Getty Imag

It is not just the players adjusting to a new matchday experience as the UEFA Europa League reaches its climax in Germany; the media are also experiencing a different perspective on the game.

Adapting to unusual circumstances, they are the eyes and ears of millions enjoying the tournament from home, conveying their impressions of the event without the atmosphere usually generated by those in the stands.

It sounds like a lot of responsibility, but James Thorogood, a Germany-based UEFA reporter who has been a regular in the press box during the tournament, has identified advantages in these unique times.

The 'long mic' interview: a key feature of socially distanced reporting
The 'long mic' interview: a key feature of socially distanced reporting Getty Images

"It's a lot easier to focus on the game when you're not looking around and watching how the fans are reacting," he says. "I've been looking at the games more tactically, based on the fact that I can hear the instructions coming from the sidelines more clearly.

"When it came to watching Leverkusen play Inter, for example, Peter Bosz was never out of his technical area and constantly chirping away. I was able to enjoy that element a lot more because I had an insight into the tactical changes that were being made."

Likewise, UEFA.com correspondent Matthias Rötters relished the pitch-side chatter as he reported on Sevilla's victory against Manchester United. "You'd have coach Julen Lopetegui saying, 'Come on, let's go!' and the goalkeeper, Yassine Bounou, saying, 'Tranquilo – stay calm!' You'd never normally hear that during a game."

All of Inter's goals on their way to the final
All of Inter's goals on their way to the final

Rötters also noticed the Sevilla staff and substitutes doing their best to make up for the empty seats surrounding them. "Before the game, you had Manchester United doing a concentrated, quite normal warm-up. On the other side you had Sevilla, who were clapping and shouting. And the Sevilla team officials were like fans for the whole match. There was so much tension in the air; it was like, without fans, they decided to raise the temperature themselves."

Ben Thornley was in Cologne covering Manchester United's games for the club's in-house television channel, MUTV. And despite having to keep his distance from his co-commentator Stewart Gardner, he was able to maintain the necessary back and forth. "We've become quite used to each other so I know from the tone of his voice, even without looking at him, when it's my turn to talk."

Thornley has also found that he's been able to cope with the lack of fans for company. "It takes a bit of getting used to but, with each game that goes by, it becomes more of the norm. The way you go about your business shouldn't change and the way you describe incidents shouldn't change."

Thorogood found some unexpected positives in the interviews that take place post-game, which currently involve microphones on long poles to get the reactions of players and coaches. "You're immediately bonding over this very bizarre experience, which breaks the ice," he says. "It makes it easier to share a joke or say congratulations before an interview and, as such, you can end up with more of a rapport."

Of course, the day that stadiums are once again full to the brim with excited, passionate and noisy supporters can't come soon enough. But Rötters has been buoyed by witnessing the essence of the game in its stripped-back form. "It's good to see that even at a time like this, football works. I've been able to feel more from the game: you hear what the players are saying, you hear the ball when it hits the crossbar. It's a pure football experience."

This article appears in the official UEFA Europa League final programme, which is available to order now.