FOOTBALL is back, but not as we know it.

Tonight saw the return of the Premier League after an 100-day absence due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It kicked off with my team, Aston Villa, taking on Yorkshire's top flight representatives Sheffield United.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Before you start Bradford City fans, yes I was there at Villa Park when you beat us in the League Cup semi-final in 2013 and yes, I did feel awful at the end!

Anyway back to 2020, where football has come home but in a totally different way.

The pre-match traffic jams, getting a pie and a pint outside the ground have been replaced by putting the kettle on and sitting back on my sofa in front of the telly to watch the game. We are all armchair fans now.

The kick-off times will also take some getting used to over the next few weeks. Indeed, 6pm on a Wednesday is a little strange. When you add in Sky Sports' pre-match build-up, 4.30pm on a Wednesday.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

My beloved Villa, second from bottom of the division before and after tonight's match, played in the last game before lockdown, an awful 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Leicester on March 7.

We now faced the Blades as Operation Restart got under way with an eventual goalless draw.

In the intervening three months I have been like most frustrated football fans. Watching old re-runs of football from yesteryear, including reliving Euro 96 and Italia 90. I have also grown an ever-increasing and impressive mullet which would rival any late 1980s pop star.

For some people it was queuing up outside a shopping centre on Monday which signalled a bit of normality, but for me it was the return of the beautiful game.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

To try to replicate the matchday experience, my dad surprised me by ordering each remaining Villa home game's programme to arrive through the post, almost like being there.

Although even that was a bit strange when Villa head coach Dean Smith called on fans to stay away from the ground on matchday in his programme notes.

To the game itself and the changes made on matchday.

Huge claret and blue banners replaced the usual full house crowd in the stands at Villa Park.

Sheffield United's players came out to an empty stadium first, followed by Villa's.

A minute's reflection was held before the game started to honour the victims of the coronavirus. 

No pre-match player handshakes, no crowd noise - all hard to get used to and, atmosphere wise, it felt like watching football down the park.

NHS blue hearts were also emblazoned on the front of each jersey as a thank you to our heroes during the Covid-19 crisis.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The players' surnames on the back of their shirts were replaced by Black Lives Matter, a classy move by the Premier League for the first 12 games of the restart.

As was the moment when all of the players, coaching staff and the referee took a knee just before kick-off.

Even the members of the media in the Villa Park stands had to keep a social distance.

No cheers or boos from the crowd, just the sounds of the player's and coach's voices throughout the 90 minutes.

Although crowd noise from previous games was available on one of the Sky Sports channels. I opted against it.

The channel did switch to a Zoom-style screen featuring Villa and Blades fans to get their reactions whenever there was a key incident.

There was also a permitted water break halfway through each half.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

Sheffield United's starting line-up included former Bantams striker Oli McBurnie.

The standard of the game wasn't too bad at all considering the players had not been involved in a competitive match for three months. It ended goalless.

But there was one hugely controversial moment at the end of the first half when we (Villa) got away with not conceding a goal.

It looked like the ball had crossed the line from United's Oliver Norwood's free-kick, but technology let them down and the goal was disallowed.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus:

The second half wasn't bad but certainly not played at a fast pace. There was a flurry of substitutions for both sides, with new rules meaning they could make up to five changes apiece.

It is a point gained in our fight against relegation against a good Blades side.

Watching a domestic game when the European Championships should have been played is odd too.

We are now entering a six-week Premier League season where games will be on our TV screens more regularly than the news.

Me, and every other football fan, will just have to get used to this new normal.