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Published: 21 October 1999

Atmosphere, 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on the Stretford End have not only been moved, but they have also grown older and what's more important, they have not been replaced by younger supporters - they have been replaced by older, corporate ones instead.

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 canned laughter?

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 more harm.

DMC - The Devil May Care

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