Stand, and deliver.

I recently read a Twitter bio that ( paraphrased ) said something along the lines of “If I didn’t already like football, I’m not sure I’d like it”. That’s quite a statement to make, or is it ? After all, so much of the modern game drives the average fan to distraction. On the pitch – and in no particular order –  we have players throwing themselves to the floor at the slightest touch. Grappling at set pieces that would put WWE wrestlers to shame. Players angrily confronting officials, questioning every decision given against them. Then we’ve got off the pitch issues. Where to start with that ? Foreign owners of questionable background, chasing the dream of fame and fortune, then selling the family silver when things go wrong. TV companies moving fixtures to every day of the week, at varying times, caring not for supporters travelling the length of the country at great cost.  Owners riding roughshod over tradition and heritage, changing names and colours to suite sponsors in a far off land.  Players at the top level earning 7-figure salaries, when the average man in the street struggles to keep a roof over his head. Ticket prices approaching treble figures for big games, with season ticket prices nearing thousands of pounds, rather than hundreds. And then we wonder why the atmosphere at games has changed, and continues to change, for the worse.

A recent piece by Paul MacInnes in the Telegraph ( it was a piece linked to Twitter, I don’t actually buy the paper ! ) raised the debate over increasingly quiet crowds. He wrote –

” Television montages remain full of crazy crowds and foreign pros continue to talk up the atmosphere at Premier League grounds but fans know this does not match up with reality. Most matches at most grounds are not rocked by a cacophony of passionate fans. They are largely quiet, frustrated places, enlivened only by goals or perceived malfeasance on the part of referees”

Anyone that has the privilege of watching football, either live or via the television, will concur with the writers take on things. Bar the initial “roar” from the crowd at kick off, very few atmospheres are maintained. Due to the hype associated with football, especially in the top-flight, the tendency has been for fans to sit back and demand to be entertained. The money that they pay at the gate is on a par with going to the theatre, and as such attendees to matches have turned from fans into consumers. As such, they act that way. The demographic at games has changed. You only have to look on social media to see how many of the “old school” fans no longer feel any affinity to the modern game, or the way their club has evolved. The sway of a match day crowd, working class lads venting their frustrations of the working week on a 90 minute match, huddled up on a cold terrace, has been replaced by a foam-hand waving, jesters hat wearing middle class family groups, sat in plush seats and happy to consume over-priced hot-dogs.  You only have to look at my club, Hull City, displaying the lyrics to songs on advertising hoardings, to see the changing face of supporters. This in itself isn’t a new thing. Go back 25-30 years, the Thatcher government tried it’s best to change football in an attempt to eradicate hooliganism. The rot set in then, and by the early 90’s Sky TV were only too happy to carry on the work, changing the way we watch and attend football forever. No one wants a return to running battles on the terraces, but the signs are that the powers that be are ( slowly ) starting to realise something needs to be done.

Safe standing may not be one of the priorities for Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore – recently quoted as saying “not on his watch” – but many high flyers from within clubs are warming to the idea. It’s a win/win situation with regards to this. Fans standing up will theoretically create more atmosphere, and at the same time the clubs get the opportunity to reduce ticket prices accordingly – although don’t expect prices to half over night. The new Rail standing system provides a one-for-one alternative, one seat or one standing position. Clubs certainly won’t be able to cram more people in, as in the old days, but the theory that people sing and chant more stood up will hopefully increase atmosphere, something that executives in football and television have noticed is missing.

This alone won’t solve footballs ill’s, but it’s a start. The cynic in me thinks it’s a ploy from the powers that be to improve the overall product, thus ensuring that their league stays the most watched in the world, and in turn the richest. Bigger and better attendances generate more money, money which when coupled with other income streams can be put towards enticing the worlds best players over here. The worlds best players guarantee bigger interest, mostly from abroad, and in turn generates more interest from TV companies and corporate brands. Ah, that old axis of evil again ! Well, nobody said we, the fans, could have it all our own way.

 

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