Preston North End’s Joe Rafferty on what he misses most about playing in front of a crowd
The news that Preston are likely to play for the next six months behind closed doors was met with a rather large gulp from Joe Rafferty.
There appeared to be some light at the end of the tunnel when North End travelled to Norwich a couple of weeks ago and played in front of 1,000 home supporters.
The match at Carrow Road was chosen as a pilot to slowly re-introduce fans back into grounds following the blanket ban on spectators due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was hoped that by the start of this month, stadiums up and down the country would be able to operate, at the very least, with a reduced capacity.
Unfortunately, the rising cases of coronavirus means the Government has been forced to shelve those plans and PNE will be met by another empty stadium when they travel to Brentford’s brand new home on Sunday.
“You have to motivate yourself whether there is a crowd watching the game or not,” said Rafferty.
“We are in a privileged position being footballers and it’s our duty to do the best we can – that’s just who we are.
“I want to perform to the best of my ability every game so there is always something in me that I want to go out and do my best.
“But whenever you play in front of a crowd, you probably try that little bit extra because you want to perform for the fans as well.
“Even though you know that the fans are all watching online, it’s not the same as having 10,000-plus fans being at the stadium and cheering you on.
“So it is quite difficult at the moment without the fans, it’s tough.
“We are probably not going to get to see them for another six months , so we just have to get on with it.”
Rafferty has found that a crowd, especially at home, can really help a team build momentum when they are on the attack.
“I would not say the lack of a crowd has affected my performance,” he said.
“I haven’t held back going for a tackle.
“You just kind of get yourself in a zone and focus on what you need to do in a game.
“Once you’re on the pitch, you don’t really think about it.
“But what I will say is the time you feel it the most is when you are putting the opposition under pressure – you probably don’t realise how big a role the crowd can play at that point.
“Even if you have a succession of corners or throw-ins high up the pitch, the crowd can feed off that.
“Things like that can swing a game in your favour and that’s where I think we are missing the fans the most.”
The lack of a crowd at the Brentford Community Stadium could work in North End’s favour this weekend as they are likely to come under some considerable pressure from the home side.
The Bees were arguably the attacking team of the Championship last season, scoring more goals than anybody else but unfortunately for them they missed out on promotion, losing 2-1 to Fulham in the play-off final at Wembley.
Although they have lost striker Ollie Watkins to Aston Villa, they have kept a large nucleus of the squad together and recruited wisely.
“Over the course of last season, they probably deserved to go up,” said Rafferty. “I think they and Leeds were the standout teams.
“They have got some top-class players there – the front three from last season were class, obviously they have lost one of them in Watkins.
“I would expect them to be up there again this season.
“They have got some top players all over the park.
“It’s going to be a tough proposition for us, but if you want to achieve things in the league , you have got to beat teams like these.
“You have to try to compete and we will go into it looking to do our best. It’s a great tester for us. We will look forward to playing at their new ground.”