As Bundesliga returns to action behind closed doors, former Liverpool and Germany great believes that it didn’t take a pandemic for soccer to cocoon itself from its fans
The game has always been the same. It's only the people who keep changing.
In these times where nothing changes yet we know nothing will ever be the same again, such simple pleasures are craved, beyond those that promise mere existence. A round of golf. A garden centre visit. A game of ball.
They prompt hope that the rest of society may soon follow. For Germans, the Bundesliga's weekend return portends brighter days ahead, just as yesterday's tentative Premier League advance, and the hoped-for relaxation in the ban on entering GAA grounds in this troubled land.
We see others play and it reminds us of the urge to play amongst ourselves too; soon, the spectator may become the participant.
For all the latest sports news, analysis and updates direct to your inbox, sign up to our newsletter.
In Germany, two-thirds of the public had been opposed to football's return; the figure was 56 per cent by last weekend; even in a society hailed for its success in restricting an invisible, accelerating killer, scepticism trumped optimism.
And yet TV figures were remarkably buoyant, even allowing for the presentation of a quartet of matches on free-to-air; six million tuned in overall, four times the normal viewership, as many rushed for a glimpse at revised normality.
"The whole experience was more normal than I expected," said the country's decorated international and current pundit, Didi Hamann, known more popularly here as an ex-Liverpool player and RTÉ resident expert.
"We had our temperatures taken and completed surveys before entering the studio but it was just nice to be amongst people again, talking soccer," he said, as he reunited with Markus Babbel, Lothar Matthaus and his other co-hosts.
Their programme is similar to 'Soccer Saturday' in the UK; except they are allowed to show goals as they happen, 16 of them in total, all of them as different as they have always been but now more than ever, for there were no supporters there to witness them.
"Obviously without the fans it's different. But in terms of it restarting here, it's not going to be any different in two months' time or in six months' time.
"So the arguments that it started too early have no validity.
"Otherwise, you are just saying we shouldn't play it at all. Because it will be just the same in six months as it is now."
That is the fervent hope to which all cling; some, depending on geography, more desperately than others.
"If you look in England, they say that not enough has been done to contain the virus and that is probably true. There have been mixed messages. You need strong leadership in times like this.
"They say the cream rises to the top and we have seen why Germany has been in a different position to the US and England for example.
"The way that Mrs Merkel has handled the crisis has been exceptional. You'll always get people who think they will know better.
"Most Germans obeyed to the lockdown and were exceptional in their discipline. But people have to earn money again and the government can't prop up the economy forever."
The R-rate has remained below zero for several weeks now while cases remain in the hundreds and, while the agitation about school re-opening jars with the return of football, renowned German stoicism seems to be prevailing.
Even within a sport where pernicious greed often runs rampant.
"Politics made it possible for the DFL to restart. If the figures hadn't reduced, politics wouldn't allow it. In England, they're running at 5,000 per day almost so I'm not sure if the Premier League can come back in June as they want to. It all goes hand in hand.
"Money is an even bigger deal here because we have the 50+1 rule so there are no private investors. The DFL did a survey and of the 36 clubs in the top two divisions; 16 said they would have had serious financial problems without a resumption.
"The reality is money is involved everywhere. But there has been solidarity here. The richest clubs put €20m in a pot for the poorer ones and everyone has involved have emerged from this with a lot of credit. But the game didn't restart for money alone.
"It had to be safe to do so. The DFL pay for all the tests, they us their own labs so there is no drain on public capacity. The players will return home and their families will be tested. I feel football was a welcome distraction for people.
"Soccer and society can feed off each other. People have been furloughed or made unemployed and they need some hope, some positivity.
"So, if they see football coming back, they think maybe my job might come back. We got a glimpse of that this weekend. Hopefully we can get it for a few weeks now."
The talk of a second wave will linger but, for now, apart from an errant kiss and the curiosities of artificial canned audience noise, the games go on.
Hamann just hopes that now that the sport has been forced to pause for breath, others may be persuaded to stop and think.
It may have taken a global pandemic to drive a socially distanced wedge between soccer and its supporters. Some feel that it had been evident for some time.
"Here we are self-reflecting in terms of transfers and agent fees. The future of European competitions. And after the FIFA scandals we have to see where we want to go with the sport.
"We need to bring it closer to the fans again. We've distanced ourselves. People say we can carry on without fans but only for now. We know that.
"But for too long, decisions have been made without the fans being heard. Now we can't base decisions on what they want. But we must think about them more.
"If we don't bring it closer to the fan, we will have problems. The game lost its soul and in certain countries they are long past it.
"Once the fan turns away, you haven't anything. They make the game. We have to be very careful."
Soccer may not be the same as it returns. And that may ultimately be a good thing.