Published: 21 October
or the lack of it - why and what to do -
by DMC - The Devil May Care
There has been a lot
made of the lack of atmosphere at Old Trafford this season, last season,
the season before that and so on. The reasons for this are many fold,
but in my opinion, very simple.
It's fair to say that a return to the heady days of the 60's, 70's and
80's is probably out of the question, but let's not discount them altogether
just yet. The game has moved on since the days of huge swaying terraces
when a goal celebration would mean involuntary levitation, a trip to the
toilet - a wet leg for the person in front, and a ticket - something you
should have bought in order to travel on the train, but didn't.
But the game has also moved away from it's roots. The supporters who would
sing so passionately on the Stretford End have not only been moved, but
they have also grown older and what's more important, they have not been
replaced by younger supporters - they have been replaced by older, corporate
Money is naturally at the root of it all, just as it is at the root of
every problem everywhere - well nearly! Money from television has poured
into the game and naturally enough, those who have invested, want a return
on their investment and they are more likely to get that return if the
image of the game was changed. So, changed it was.
The game has changed or been changed, depending on which way you prefer
to look at it, and the cherry pickers have moved in to take all the fruit,
but as usual are not feeding the roots. Result - the game is dying because
it is losing it's youthful enthusiasm - not on the pitch (although there's
also an argument there) but in the stands.
I don't believe that the League chairmen sat down together one day and
made a pact to remove the atmosphere from games, but the Taylor Report
and European regulations saw to it that the stadia had to become all seater
and this gave them the opportunity to bang up the prices and consequently
remove the riff raff and replace them with the hoi poloi.
This did not help the atmosphere one little bit, not that it seems to
bother the hierarchy, and in my opinion, along with the TV effect, the
all-seater stadium is to blame for the lack of crowd participation. Some
may argue that this is a facile statement, but let's look at the facts
at Old Trafford.
Firstly there's the increase in cost. An all seater stadium houses less
supporters than one which also has standing areas, thus, to retain the
same revenue, the price for tickets has to rise. The prices didn't just
rise they disappeared into the stratosphere and with them went those who
could not afford to pay. Unfortunately they tended to be those in the
younger age range, namely teenage through to very early twenties. And
they were also the one's who were more likely to join in with the singing
and create an atmosphere.
Once they had gone they were destined not to return. What with the necessity
of a Season Ticket and the need to apply for any other seats five weeks
in advance - and what teenager is going to be bothered with that - a whole
generation is lost forever. The generation which would have been blooded
on the Strettie - indoctrinated with the buzz and hooked for life.
Those of us who stood on the Stretford End made our own rules - rules
that worked. We chose where to stand and who to stand next to. Some of
us went to games on our own and if we found ourselves next to a pain in
the arse we had a simple solution - move, or move them. In an all seater,
you are allocated a seat and that is where you stay. You may be fortunate
enough to be amongst people who are like minded and want to encourage
atmosphere or you may not - it's the luck of the draw.
So when the Strettie was demolished and we were forced to re-locate we
more or less took pot luck, even though there was a choice of area. In
my own case, in K Stand, I sit amongst good people who I get on with very
well, but hardly any of them join in with the singing and chanting unless
there's been a goal, and even then only briefly. This is a source of constant
frustration which would never have occurred in a standing section. These
are all people who were already sitting in these seats when the Stretford
was taken from us. In other words they had already chosen to be there
because they preferred to sit and watch rather than stand and participate.
Fair enough - the choice was theirs, they took it, but where was the choice
for us ex Enders?
So there's the moving around scenario which of course leads to those who
are like minded banding together, leaving others to do likewise just as
my match going compatriots had done in K Stand. Everyone knows that the
atmosphere grows when those of like minds are together. It's no good having
the likes of Boylie over in J Stand doing his nut trying to get people
motivated when those of us who are likely to be encouraged are far away
and those in between are wondering why he's even bothering.
Banding together in large groups encourages everyone and the noise that
is generated is louder because of the numbers involved and thus more likely
to encourage more to join in. It's a domino effect which can circulate
around the ground.
The other factor is that the closer packed together you are the more difficult
it is for those around not to join in with the singing and so the noise
spreads quicker - something Kevin Moran talks about in the latest Red
News. I'm not advocating huge standing terraces as we once had all over
the country, but there is a definite case for smaller areas to be made
available to those who have a desire to stand. Not that I'm making a case
for the 'standing leads to atmosphere' theory, as clearly it is not necessarily
true, but banding together in large groups of like minded supporters definitely
does. If the two could be linked then that would be the answer.
Standing areas also lead to more space becoming available and so the admittance
price would hopefully be cheaper and we may just encourage some of the
lost generation back, but that may already be wishful thinking. And one
final point on this to link it back to television - isn't it true that
they need the atmosphere too in order to attract the audience, or will
they eventually resort to canned atmosphere just as they have done with
So let's consider the money question. The game has been made more accessible
to the 'new fan' through television. These 'new fans' are just that -
they are not genuine supporters. They are in effect hangers-on, make hay
while the sun shines, corporate jollyites, sightseers and tourists. They
will never be atmosphere hunters, gatherers or creators, but more - 'get
the eye glasses out' theatre goers.
On the one hand every club now needs some of these new wavers because
it is they who spend money by the sack load in the megastore thus filling
coffers that you or I would never fill in a million years. But they could
be redirected to merchandise elsewhere in the high street and don't really
need to go to the games.
In the same way the merchandising arm of the club is also necessary as
it brings in tons of cash which helps Martin to increase his income to
£662,000 per year and we all know he needs to do this because he
hasn't got much in the bank (poor lad). Theoretically it helps buy players
when necessary and pay the going rate, but I'm not going to get into the
question of wages right now!
Personally I have no problem with merchandising, as you buy if you want
to, you don't if you don't want to. No-one is actually forced into parting
with any money for merchandise, it's all freedom of choice. It's a live
and let live sort of thing for me, if people want to wear the Sharp shirt,
it's up to them. What I do object to is the lack of atmosphere and I think
the attitude of the day tripper does relate to this. There is a situation
now in the first three rows of the scoreboard end (OK - East Lower) where
the day trippers predominate. These new wavers come to stare at the caged
beasts behind them who are trying to whip up an atmosphere.
Surely the solution would be to make this part of the ground into a 'singing
section' (hang on is that a pig flying past my window?) move the trippers
to a 'safer' part of the ground where they can drink their coke, feed
their babies and eat their popcorn and everybody would be happy. And if
we could also have a standing section (a safe standing section) at the
same time, where those who would dare to sing and chant and be amongst
friends, then maybe, just maybe, the atmosphere would return.
The genuine supporters who want to make a noise would then have their
part of the ground just as those who wish to sit have theirs, families
have theirs, execs have theirs and the corporate jollyites have theirs.
It's not too much to ask is it?
But briefly coming back to Martin, it amused me to read in the article
posted earlier when he said:
"The Italian clubs don't necessarily run their businesses to make
a profit either. Very often they have got individual entrepreneurs who
bail them out. They are either backed by very big companies or wealthy
individuals and so when they get into debt the owners rescue them.
"You have only got to look at Inter Milan where Massimo Moratti has
put something like £30m of his own money into the club. They haven't
got the restrictions that we have and they run them like their individual
fiefdoms. We can't compete with that."
And how much money have you made out of the club, how much have you put
back, and how much do you take out a year then Martin? Did you really
think about what you were going to say before you said it? (again) And
has it occurred to you that you may have dropped a bit of a bollock there?
Maybe your next lucid moments could be devoted to letting us know when
you're going to relinquish your grip on our great club before you do any
- The Devil May Care