Before it became the norm, it was the exception. It will return to being the exception, just as soon as Covid-19 abates.
The decision to schedule a competitive football match behind closed doors is never taken lightly. Under normal circumstances, it is deemed a punishment.
As was the case in 2009.
Back then, St Patrick's Athletic flew to the Romanian capital for a Europa League clash behind closed doors.
For all the latest sports news, analysis and updates direct to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter.
Steaua Bucharest had fallen foul of UEFA for the behaviour of their supporters. It was a punishment that, in some ways, made up for an overly lenient sanction four years earlier.
Back in 2005, Shelbourne had drawn 0-0 against Steaua in the first leg of their Champions League second qualifying round match in Dublin. A week later, they were outclassed at the home of the Romanian champions.
However, the 4-1 defeat was relegated to a sidenote on an ugly evening for the beautiful game. The arrival on the pitch of late subs Curtis Fleming and Joseph Ndo had been greeted with vile monkey chants by a section of Steaua fans.
Their every touch of the ball thereafter provoked the same response.
"We had two black players on the field and they were abused. It was unacceptable," said Shelbourne manager Pat Fenlon in the aftermath of the 4-1 defeat.
Steaua were fined €16,500 by UEFA. Three weeks later, they received a further punishment, in the form of a one-match stadium ban.
Steaua exited the Champions League at the hands of Rosenborg and were parachuted into the UEFA Cup. It was at this stage that the stadium ban was announced.
Their UEFA Cup first-round second-leg match against Valerenga would be played at the home of FC Farul, 230km away from Bucharest.
Supporters who were unable to attend the away leg in Norway made the most of their 'home' date in the historical city of Constanta, on the western coast of the Black Sea.
They easily accounted for Valerenga and only for an improbable comeback by Middlesbrough in the semi-final, would have made it all the way to the UEFA Cup final. The stadium ban was new territory for UEFA, the first time they had imposed such a punishment. Its impact had been minuscule.
Four years later, when Steaua fans displayed offensive banners in a Europa League match against Ujpest, a stronger sanction was inevitable.
UEFA acted fast, forcing them to play two home games behind closed doors, the first of which would be against St Patrick's Athletic - ironically, the club that gave Fleming and Ndo their start in the League of Ireland.
The measure of a club is often calculated by the number of seats they fill at home games. A shallow theorem, but one that rings true for so many.
The prospect of the most famous teams on the planet lining out in empty stadia in the near future is a sobering one, but some of the final games before the sport went into Covid-19 hibernation gave us a taste of what's surely to come when the action eventually returns.
When Manchester United rifled five goals past LASK in a Europa League last-16 tie on March 12, every goal was greeted with a deafening silence. Individual utterances were audible to TV viewers. They were sights and sounds that jarred. Four days earlier, Juventus had hosted Inter Milan in Serie A.
The Old Lady of Italian football fielded her own golden oldies in Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain. Inter lined up with Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young in their ranks. Famous faces, one and all.
Covid-19 ensured that it wasn't Ronaldo or Lukaku capturing most attention, but the arresting sight of 41,507 empty seats.
This is football in 2020.
There exists a mantra that is sometimes emblazoned upon banners at English Premier League matches.
"Football without fans is nothing."
Five simple words that serve as a succinct and meaningful statement for fans at loggerheads with club directors.
There has been plenty of football without fans down through the years, and it would be wrong to say it has reduced the sport to 'nothing'.
Football has, however, been immeasurably poorer for their absence.
With an upcoming Europa League clash against Valletta in mind, St Patrick's Athletic manager Jeff Kenna delved into the transfer market in mid-July of 2009.
Drogheda United's record goalscorer, Declan O'Brien, was a respected marksman who had been brought in to add potency to a misfiring attack. However, nobody - not even the player himself - could have foreseen the impact he would make.
O'Brien, better known by his sobriquet of Fabio, scored at home and away against Valletta as the Saints eliminated the Maltese side in the second qualifying round.
It was expected that they would fall to Russian top-flight outfit Krylia Sovetov in the next round but, again, O'Brien scored in both legs as the Inchicore side pulled off a major upset.
Less than a month into his St Pat's career, he had become the club's record scorer in European competition.
Onto Bucharest for the play-off round, and a first-leg clash with Steaua in front of 28,365 empty seats.
With both clubs permitted to have more than 100 dignitaries at the game, a small cohort of St Pat's supporters were afforded the opportunity to attend the away leg.
The records state that the attendance at Steaua Stadium on that balmy August evening was zero. But that's not strictly true.
This writer was one of the St Pat's 'dignitaries' who made the trip.
In order to exude the impression of officialdom, all 60-or-so of us were supplied with a white t-shirt bearing the club crest and embroidered words that erroneously referred to the tournament as the 'Europa Cup'.
Hardly formal wear, but it offered a semblance of uniformity to the travelling party. One problem with playing the role of a dignitary is that it calls for dignified behaviour.
The wealth of beer cans on display as the Saints faithful took their seats went some distance towards shattering the intended illusion. Positioned high up in the stadium, a pane of glass separated the white-shirt wearers and the Bucharest air.
The roar of a crowd breathes life and intensity into fixtures. Remove that and you're left with a flat, sanitised ambience.
The atmosphere lacked everything one expects from such a high-stakes match. Simply put, there was no atmosphere.
More than a decade later, O'Brien recalls feeling energised by the sight of an empty stadium. "I found it very flat, which was no bad thing," says the Dublin native.
"I felt the empty crowd would benefit us, most definitely. Tempo is always down with a small crowd - in this case no crowd - and you could see that Steaua were struggling with momentum. We had nothing to lose, they were strong favourites, and we felt as though we could come away from it with a positive result."
The League of Ireland is particularly at risk from the devastation inflicted by Covid-19. The cancellation of fixtures for the foreseeable future was absorbed like a knockout blow.
Some clubs had no choice but to take swift action, laying off players and office staff. Others chose to bide their time; hoping, praying, for a minor miracle. League of Ireland teams rely on income from match tickets to stay alive. They don't receive payment for televised matches, while meagre prize money has been a major bugbear for years.
Across the water, if the Premier League season is to be completed this summer, it will be behind closed doors, but such is the financial might of the English top flight that four or five home games with no match-day revenue is tolerable.
Last season, Brighton finished 17th, just one place above the relegation zone, but still banked £105.7m between a combination of TV income, prize money and affiliate income.
With that kind of money bolstering bank balances, the rainy-day fund ought to be in good order
Comparing the League of Ireland and the English Premier League is a futile exercise. Utterly pointless. However, it is interesting to note the impact of matches being played behind closed doors in both jurisdictions.
Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk stand apart as two clubs of relative means in a financially impoverished league. And having initially said "behind closed doors doesn't work for us," Stephen Bradley has welcomed the FAI's efforts to explore the possibilities for closed-doors football.
"We are keen to return to work and we will be ready to participate fully with all health and safety guidelines and instructions," said the Rovers boss in comments that have been echoed by Dundalk manager Vinny Perth.
Abbotstown officials want clubs to fully explore the option before ruling it a non-runner although splits have emerged between factions of Premier Division clubs.
Finn Harps, St Patrick's Athletic and Sligo Rovers officials have cast doubt over the viability of the proposals, both from a cost and a public health perspective.
However, the FAI's warning that it could be 2021 before we see League of Ireland games with supporters in the stands will concentrate minds and hopes of a support package from FIFA could make it financially viable.
Back in 2009, efforts were made by the St Pat's 'dignitaries' to self-police during the match, but they were of the classroom variety, with bad language generally greeted by a combination of shushes and laughter in equal measure.
It didn't take long for Steaua officials - one of whom was controversial club owner, and recently elected MEP Gigi Becali - to realise that there was little official about the men and women in white t-shirts.
The first half finished 0-0. Another 45 scoreless minutes would ensure an unlikely draw, and set the Saints up for a shot at qualification to the group stages in the return leg. But what if they went one better and actually won?
The second half was 10 minutes old when Stuart Byrne was sent crashing down in the box under the weight of a double challenge from two Steaua defenders. Cast-iron penalty, surely.
The visiting dignitaries demanded a spot-kick. Byrne remonstrated frantically. St Pat's manager Kenna leapt out of his seat, shuffled a few paces forward and held his hands up into the night sky, where they dangled until a decision was made.
Referee Aleksei Nikolaev hesitated for a moment and then… nothing. Outrage and disbelief ensued in the cinema seats behind the pane of glass. "An absolute homer," said one frustrated Pat's fan within earshot.
The age-old 'homer' accusation is usually tied into a belief that referees can be influenced by an intimidating home crowd. However, with no Steaua fans in attendance, the accusation was flawed.
The travelling party were still smarting from the penalty-that-wasn't when Pantelis Kapetanos put the ball on a plate for Banel Nicolita, who stroked home. They made it look easy.
Kapetanos would go on to represent Greece at the following year's World Cup, while Nicolita was a regular in the Romania national team.
They had international quality in abundance, which told as the game wore on. Byrne admitted as much afterwards, saying: "They were at another level. As good as you will play in Europe."
A brace from Bogdan Stancu - who gave future Ireland international Enda Stevens the run-around - made it 3-0 by the finish. A harsh scoreline, but ultimately reflective of the gulf in class.
Once again, UEFA's sanction had made no impact on the Steaua players, although Becali did bemoan the financial implications of an empty stadium. It begs the question of the impact fans actually make.
Steaua were the better team and won. As was the case when United put five past LASK in March. And when Juventus put two in the Inter net.
Football without fans? Arrive at your own conclusions.