It is on the final afternoon of the season, with things still to be decided, that you miss the presence of supporters in stadiums more than ever.
The games of Chinese whispers about crucial goals flying in at far-flung grounds can transform the mood of tens of thousands of people in an instant.
The old-school fan with the transistor radio pressed to his ear who becomes the focus of everyone’s attention, or the more modern method of mobile phone goal alerts and WhatsApp messages.
Elliot Lee celebrates as Oxford United beat Burton 4-0 to reach another League One playoffs
The hasty mental arithmetic to calculate points tallies and goal difference and the shockwave of emotion caused by news from elsewhere that transmits to the players on the pitch.
We could only imagine all that on the final day of the regular League One season yesterday:
The electric atmosphere at the Kassam Stadium where Oxford United rattled in four goals against Burton Albion — but still tinged with a sense of foreboding that Portsmouth were going to stage a miraculous late comeback to snatch the final play-off spot.
The sense of despair at Fratton Park as Pompey failed at the last, losing 1-0 to Accrington Stanley to drop out of the top six and see their promotion hopes vanish.
The palpable flatness of the occasion here at the Valley, as Oxford’s goals rendered Charlton Athletic’s 1-0 win over champions Hull City academic.
Despair for Ronan Curtis and Portsmouth as their defeat to Accrington saw them miss out
We will never know if fans would have made a difference to the outcome. Would the timber- rattling din of the Pompey Chimes have roused their team to the victory they needed?
Superfan John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood could be heard ringing his bell outside Fratton Park — a lone voice urging the team on — but their many chances went begging.
So, in the end, the finale lacked the nail-biting drama and tension of Saturday’s Championship relegation shootout.
Oxford will play Blackpool in the play-off semi-finals while Sunderland take on Lincoln City — and the dust settled without any sensational late twists.
We had a pretty clear idea of the outcome inside the first half-hour as Oxford surged into a two-goal lead thanks to goals from Olamide Shodipo and Matty Taylor.
In between, Accrington’s Adam Phillips had scored an eye-catching goal at Portsmouth and Oxford replaced them in sixth position with a two-point lead.
Elliot Lee had extended Oxford’s lead by the time Charlton broke the deadlock against Hull thanks to a Jacob Greaves own goal. That put Charlton level on points with Oxford but their inferior goal difference left them needing to score seven. Hull, who secured the title last weekend, were far too good for that even if celebrations had been ongoing.
So the only way Oxford could be denied was if Pompey conjured two late goals. Despite chances for Ronan Curtis, George Byers and Charlie Daniels, they could not muster one, let alone two.
Charlton manager Nigel Adkins saw his side miss out on the playoffs on goal difference
Oxford finished with a flourish as Sam Winnall scored a fourth and there were just two anxious minutes to endure before the final whistle sounded at Fratton Park.
The players gathered in a huddle on the pitch. A voice could be heard asking, ‘How long’s left?’ Then a roar confirmed they had done it and the hugs and high-fives could begin.
‘It’s different having no fans as I’m sure the roof would have come off when Accrington’s goal went in,’ said Oxford manager Karl Robinson. ‘We’re over the moon. To achieve this is an incredible feat and to go into the play-offs as the ones not expected to go through. We’re immensely proud to be in the play-offs for consecutive years — it’s a nice feeling.’
Oxford lost out at Wembley to Wycombe last season and whatever happens from here Robinson will be watching from the stands as he serves a four-match touchline ban.
There was a different mood at Portsmouth. ‘If we’re brutally honest, when the pressure came on, we didn’t play with enough bravery,’ said manager Danny Cowley. ‘I’m bitterly disappointed and it’s always horrible when you feel you’ve let people down.
‘Ultimately, we finished where we deserved to. I don’t think the table lies after 46 games.’
For Charlton boss Nigel Adkins, who only came in 10 games ago, it was all about looking forward. ‘Now we know what division we are in, we’ve got to work as a football club to put a team together and then challenge in the snakes and ladders of the Football League, the emotions and the ups and downs.’
And, we hope, with the fans back to experience it all.
Hull City manager Grant McCann celebrates with the League One trophy after being crowned champions and securing promotion to the Championship