TOWELS draped over the speakers, Stuart McCall tried to address the City players for his team talk.

The background din was just another complication in this ever-changing environment as football attempts to piece itself back together.

Unable to change in the dressing rooms at Forest Green because of maintaining space between the teams, City’s makeshift base was a couple of spare rooms in the main stand.

Unfortunately, they led on to the concourse as the pre-match music belted out to drown McCall’s last-minute advice despite his best sound-muffling tactics. But managers are learning to be adaptable in these times.

The volume was louder on Saturday than it had been but there was good reason.

The New Lawn was playing host to a genuine crowd – strictly reduced to season-ticket holders and spaced around the ground, maybe, but there were fans at last.

The early arrivals appeared almost lost. Heading towards familiar seats, all following the green arrows of course, felt like walking into a brand new stadium.

Some stopped for socially-distanced selfies as the announcer regularly warned to “keep in your bubble”. Welcome to football watching in 2020.

The first chants of “Rovers” sounded rusty and almost self-conscious as if those daring to make a noise were fearful of upsetting the protocols.

But then the drum wound up at the home side’s first corner and there was that sense of a proper football match again.

Let’s face it, the game without fans is rubbish. That’s no cliché but a fact proved by the last few months.

The TV companies try to pipe in crowd sounds but it’s fooling nobody.

And being at the game itself, admittedly a privileged position for reporters right now, has that equally hollow feeling.

It might be fun to hear what McCall is actually instructing his players – and the swearing on the pitch that would usually go unnoticed in the general hubbub – but it’s a poor substitute.

The sound of a couple of Forest Green locals haranguing Elliot Watt in the first half was like music to the ears. A moment of footballing normal, even if “shut up 18” is hardly the most cutting one-liner.

And let’s not forget, City even had an away following taking advantage of a low fence in a garden overlooking the ground they had accessed via a public footpath.

Five supporters, two of them in claret and amber shirts, offered their backing from behind the corner flag.

Connor Wood could hear the pocket of gate-crashing City fans during the game. For him, they contributed just as much as those who were allowed in the ground.

“A big shout-out to the lads that were in the corner,” said the defender. “They were making as much noise as anyone else!

“We’ve missed that atmosphere with behind closed doors games, so it’s another step towards normality even though they are socially-distanced.

“It was good to just have a crowd back and play in front of spectators again. That’s part of the game even if they were all against us.

“The atmosphere helps whether they are with you or not. You get a bit more out of it.”

Hopes of a return to limited crowds from the start of next month hinge on the government.

Having seen City’s game and six others hosting supporters pass off without an obvious hitch, more clubs are considering putting themselves forward for further pilot events next weekend.

And yet growing talk of another national lockdown in light of the spiralling positive cases for COVID will not inspire confidence.

City already face that added complication locally – a scenario that must change if they are to be allowed to welcome back supporters for the televised Yorkshire derby against Harrogate on October 12.

They know that asking to be part of the test when Stevenage head for West Yorkshire on Saturday is a waste of time as things stand.

Getting a more favourable answer next month is in the lap of the Gods – or Westminster, anyway.

Wood is taking a more upbeat view after the glimpse in Gloucestershire of what might be.

He added: “I’m happy that we’re taking that step back with fans and hopefully everything starts getting back on the up.

“With another lockdown looking to come with Bradford, hopefully as soon as that passes we can start to see some fans back again.

“We know we’ve got the best atmosphere in this league when we’re playing at home and even away with the amount we bring.

“I think we can use our home advantage massively. The sooner we can get fans back in the better.”

For now, there’s nothing the Bantams can do on that front.