BOOMING house music reverberated around the cavernous University of Bolton Stadium.

The accompaniment for the pre-match warm-up on day one was at maximum volume.

“The lads were looking round at each other wondering why it was so loud,” said one City player. “It’s not as if there was anyone in the ground.”

Welcome to season 2020-2021, one like no other.

The year behind closed doors – with the odd exception.

There was the man precariously balancing on his roof at Exeter, not daring to cheer too much and risk loosening his grip on the chimney stack.

And the gaggle of artful City fans stood on a public footpath overlooking the ground at Forest Green.

City’s first visit to the New Lawn, a novelty trip that many would surely have taken advantage of to tick off their personal list, was one of the three games to be played in front of actual spectators.

About 600 were there on a glorious September afternoon as a “pilot” event towards allowing crowds back everywhere a few weeks later. So much for that plan.

The other occasions when City played in front of more than just directors, staff and the media were the December visits to Crawley and Tranmere.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Look carefully and there's an Exeter fan hanging on to his chimney stack to watchLook carefully and there's an Exeter fan hanging on to his chimney stack to watch

It’s fair to say the raucous rendition of “who the XXXX hell are you” that greeted the Bantams on to the pitch at the Broadfield Stadium was by far the best atmosphere of the season.

Who would imagine such an abusive chant would bring a lump to the throat?

But then this campaign has been anything but normal for any of us fortunate enough to have been allowed beyond the locked gates.

The rigmarole involved in getting into grounds – medical questionnaires, temperature checks, winding one-way routes through “amber zones” through the deepest nooks and crannies of the stand – has become as much a part of the match-day routine as checking the laptop is fully charged.

That is certainly a necessity when seating arrangements for safe spacing have often meant being plonked well away from the press box and any source of power. Hence the bright red head from sitting in row four at Harrogate.

That was one of the few afternoons when the compulsory mask-wearing became genuinely uncomfortable.

For most of the season, the extra face covering has been a real bonus during the worst of the winter weather – none more so than that eventful abortive February night in Scunthorpe.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Full winter clobber for City's abandoned night in Scunthorpe in FebruaryFull winter clobber for City's abandoned night in Scunthorpe in February

Having come in through an unlit back gate that involved the stewards using a mobile phone torch to see me fill in the necessary health checks, a first glance at the pitch suggested the conditions were fine for football.

That tweet did not age well as – right on kick-off – the snow descended.

City, wearing that “invisible” third kit, subtly blended in as Glanford Park was quickly transformed into a white wonderland.

Usual shouts from reporters of “who crossed that ball” were replaced by “where is it” and “where are the players” as the farcical night descended into a battle scene from beyond the wall in Game of Thrones.

Most clubs, to be fair, have done what they can to be accommodating at a time when they have to jump through so many hoops because of the pandemic.

But inevitably there are some jobsworths who have relished the extra layer of authority – one place in particular where they accused me of creating a “tripping hazard” with my extension lead.

I wouldn’t have minded if there had been anybody actually in the stand to trip on it!

Regrettably, I won’t be going back there next season – unless City draw the now-National League opposition in the FA Cup.

Thankfully, the power-hungry stewards have been few and far between.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Cheese board and the Chase was as exciting as it got on the long away tripsCheese board and the Chase was as exciting as it got on the long away trips

Contrast that with the wonderful chap at Barrow – and certainly my vote for unsung hero of the season – who came round just before kick-off with a batch of left-over pies from the board room!

Justice, I’m sure you will agree, has been done with the Cumbrians staying up at the expense of that other team – who were not Southend, if you were wondering.

Away days have been a chore without a crowd – and an excuse to meet up for a few cheeky pints the night before.

Hotels without breakfasts have become the mind-numbing norm on the longest trips; stuck in the room with nowhere to go.

The “highlight” was an evening in Exeter watching the Chase and Doc Martin repeats while wolfing down a cheese and cold meat platter with a bottle of red.

But a nice selection of ham and Stilton does not compare to a night on the town meeting up with familiar faces on tour.

Hopefully, that will be back in August or sometime soon after.

Football reporting without the fans will never come close. Roll on their return!