I started off with the intention of writing an article about how a shiny new stadium compares to a redeveloped older stadium in terms of atmosphere, but I quickly discovered that atmosphere isn’t necessarily created purely by bricks and mortar (or the steel and glass of new stadiums), but is generated by the fans who attend the games, and their attitude and approach to generating an atmosphere.
Everyone has heard of ‘the Roker roar’, has heard the Toon Army in full voice, and heard people talk fondly of Ayresome Park and the noise generated in bygone days, but the noise generated these days seem much more reactive than proactive. It often takes a great goal, a crunching tackle, or a local derby to really get the crowd going and for the noise to nearly lift the roof off the great stadiums of our local clubs, but in past generations opposing players feared exiting the tunnel such was the ferocity of noise generated by the home crowd.
So what’s changed?
Speaking to fans of the three big local clubs they voiced concerns about the match day experience, how people turn up now waiting to be entertained – much like watching a show or going to the cinema, sat in their seats, waiting for something to happen. They talked of how they are told where to sit, how to behave, and not to stand up or swear for fear of upsetting a fellow ‘customer’. Most importantly they said how sometimes they don’t feel comfortable singing or chanting when everyone around them is quietly watching the match.
Is it brought on by the fact that fans can no longer group together in a certain area of the stadium, chat, laugh, cheer, jeer, sing, chant, and generally have fun during the build up and match itself? Has the regimented almost military way in which football is policed these days sapped the energy out of our great sport?
The German system
German football stadiums have standing areas, in fact a minmum of 10% of all tickets are for fans wishing to stand, and most importantly they are priced at a fraction of the cost of the cheapest Premier League seat. Football has become an expensive pastime, too costly for families and low income households to afford in these credit crunch times, and with that a lot of the working class element and the noise it generated has been lost, whilst those who still wish to make noise no longer feel comfortable because those around them are deafly quiet, – so is it time to re-introduce standing areas where the more vocal supporters can gather in a particular section, their voices rousing the quieter fans around the stadium and the ripple effect generating the atmosphere from days gone by? Is it time to bring the game back to the working class, prevent it from becoming a once in a blue moon treat or just more cost effective to watch it at home or in the pub?
I surveyed a selection of fans from all three major North East clubs and over 90% were in favour of having an affordable safe standing area, believing it would improve the match day atmosphere. So if it can be done safely in other countries then why not here? Our countries obsession with health and safety is ripping the soul out of the game we all love, attendances are falling and more people are choosing to stay at home to watch the match. No one wants to ever see another Hillsborough or Heysel but maybe it’s about time we relaxed our rules a little so that once again the fans of our great clubs can generate the type of atmosphere they were once famous for.
Many thanks to Glen Cardy who provided a great photo for this article