An eerie, empty Bramall Lane is a price worth paying for Sheffield United fans

It felt eerie. It felt odd. It was odd.

Monday, 23rd March 2020, 6:27 pm

There were no slightly confused-looking, early-arriving away fans walking up The Moor searching for a coffee or a pub to kill time before making their way to the stadium.

No bellowing of 'match programmes' from the couple who take up their patch between the subways. No dodging puddles down there. No 'Man with the Pram' standing a little in the distance, resplendent in green as you come out of the tunnel and into the light.

No half-and-half scarf and badge seller beside the forecourt of the garage that itself was missing a queue of people picking up sweets.

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No friendly, smiling police officers keeping an eye on things. No bagpipe player. No smell of hot dogs and burgers from the van on the corner of John Street. No van at all.

Chains were on the gates. Turnstiles closed. The Copthorne Hotel deserted. The car park empty. The shutters of the superstore pulled down.

'Closed until further notice. We apologise for any inconvenience' - a sign on the door of the ticket office.

Two cameramen focused on the barren scene; a football-writing colleague from our sister paper The Yorkshire Post also surveyed from a distance.

The gates remained locked at Bramall Lane on what would have been matchday. Pic: Chris Holt

A few people walked past, but not many. A handful of cars, too, drove up Bramall Lane with an ease they would never have been able to achieve on any given matchday.

For that's what this was supposed to be...matchday.

It should have been a big Sunday afternoon of football in Sheffield. A sold-out FA Cup quarter-final where a victory over Arsenal would take United to Wembley.

Unlike last week when the Premier League match against Newcastle United was called off the day before, we had been gearing up for this weekend of not having any football to watch. We had been ready for it, but it wasn;t any easier by the point when kick-off time was supposed to have arrived.

A deserted car park at around what would have been kick off time betwen Sheffield United and Arsenal. Pic: Chris Holt

Both of the city's two big teams were due to be playing at home. There should have been a buzz around the place but that buzz has been taken away in the interests of everyone's health as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause widespread disruption to our daily lives.

Football's temporary postponement has been greatly felt round here. United were having one of their best seasons in living memory, looked to be heading for Europe and fans had been treated on a bi-weekly basis to exhilarating performances that had made many forget all the bad years that had preceded the time before Chris Wilder took charge.

United had made many people forget a lot of things.

To a huge number of people, football is more than just sport. It could be their only means of socialising. It'll be the highlight of a difficult week.

The Railyway Hotel near Bramall Lane is normally packed on a matchday. Pic: Chris Holt

For others it's their business. The pubs and chippies and sweet shops around football grounds rely on that matchday income to keep them going.

The Railway Hotel, which faces the junction of Cherry Street and Bramall Lane was bolted shut. A sign outside, put up before Friday's official government shutdown of pubs and cafes read: "Having already lost the remainder of the football season, which is catastrophic to our business in itself, the announcement on Monday to avoid public houses if possible has decimates trade to a degree that it is costing us more to open, than to remain closed."

These are some of the reasons why the deserted streets around Bramall Lane brought such sadness.

However, none of that is more important than the health of the people of this city.

Football will be back. Sheffield United will be back. And if every single person who watched the last game at the Lane before the season was brought to a temporary halt is able to make it back to their seat when things kick off again, then it will be worth the weeks of eerily quiet matchdays.

And as Jack, signed off on his note outside the Railway Hotel: "We hope to see you all very soon, at which point there will be one hell of a party!"

A note outside the temporarily closed Railway Hotel at Bramall Lane. Pic: Chris Holt
The gates at Bramall Lane remained closed on what should have been matchday. Pic: Chris Holt
The ticket office at Bramall Lane remain closed. Pic: Chris Holt
Shoreham Street is normally packed full of Sheffield United fans on a matchday. Pic: Chris Holt
An eerily quiet John Street. Pic: Chris Holt