In his debut post for Outside Write, Oliver Sidwell examines the efforts fans are making across England to bring the atmosphere back to football in an era of all-seater stadiums.
Saturday, 3pm. Bristol City are lead out of the tunnel by captain defensive centre-half “Bailey Wright Wright Wright!”
The teams are read out, the handshakes are done and the whistle is blown; the game is off, an almighty roar ripples around the ground: “Come on, you Reds!” The sheer sound is surreal, 22,000-plus fans all in unison, all cheering, all there for one thing – to help the team earn those crucial three points.
This is a common sight for most teams around England. However, in recent years this pulsating atmosphere is slowly getting quieter as TV broadcasting rights reach a record-breaking high. Increasing matchday prices and other factors have resulted in the traditional atmosphere slowly dying.
Some fans have not sat back and let the atmosphere die. Fans of clubs such as Oxford United, Watford, Leicester City, Bristol City and Huddersfield Town have set up fan groups reminiscent of the European “Ultras” scene. The fan groups are there to help maintain the atmosphere that has always been associated with English fans whilst also having a political stance and addressing other issues in the beautiful game.
Leicester City’s Union FS put it best when they say they “believe that atmospheres are best served and improved through the fans acting independently, rather than being directed by their club. We believe that fans are the most important part of every football club.”
Jamie Hawkins, a 19-year old Bristol City fan has been a season ticket holder for the past four seasons and has seen the club go through various changes both on and off the pitch. When speaking to him I discussed the English ultras along with various other issues such as lack of standing areas, safe standing campaigns, modern stadia as well as European clubs and the relationship they have with their fans.
When speaking to him about safe standing and if it should be brought in he had some clear points to make.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Hawkins says. “It should be brought in because most fans prefer to stand up, you get the odd fan that wants to sit down, but it gives the option to do both. I think it’s still a few years away but if they did a vote on it with the crowd now, potentially it could be brought in but whether that’s going to happen I don’t know.”
On the issue of modern stadiums, he had this to say: “The pitch is further away from the fans, such as West Ham’s new ground (Olympic Stadium), miles away from pitch makes it harder to see the match. It is not much better with new football stadiums, the way they’re built being further away from the pitch, the atmosphere is not as good.”
West Ham’s ground is a strange one as they did fill in the running track to help improve the atmosphere, but as Jamie said the pitch placement does not help with the fans view of the game. This results in fans not wanting to attend matches.
Countries such as Germany are the posters boy for club structure. For the current 2017/2018 season Borussia Dortmund charge €104.50 (£93) for their cheapest season ticket whilst English clubs such as Arsenal charge £891 for theirs. This is one reason why the relationship with their fans is better than their English counterparts, they are treated as fans and not customers.
When talking about season ticket prices Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness had the following to say; “We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us? In a transfer discussion, you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan. We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody, that’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
The owners of these clubs target the game for the working man and this philosophy helps bring in more numbers, which helps to make a louder atmosphere.
When speaking to Jamie about the Bundesliga and its clubs’ structures he had some key points to make. “Clubs are much better, such as Bayern Munich. Season tickets are cheap for where they are in the league and the players they have. Their crowd attendance sell out nearly every game. The relationship between the club and the fans is so much closer. They actually care about the fans. It’s better value.”
I also spoke about the same issues to Lewis Cole, an 18-year-old Bristol Rovers fan who has had a season ticket for the last three seasons and been there from the recent decline to non-league and the triumph to League One.
“I know some teams have introduced safe standing such as Celtic being an example. I think it definitely helps improve the atmosphere. It helps to reduce crowd trouble and make the overall atmosphere better.” Celtic introduced the safe standing section during the 2016 close season and it has proved to be a hit with fans. “It gives a feel of what football used to be about on the terraces for the working man.”
Other clubs have tried to emulate Celtic and only one so far has succeeded, Shrewsbury Town. In July 2017, after meeting a crowdfunding target, permission was granted to have safe standing installed. The club is hoping to install them before the end of the current 2017/18 season. It is a massive achievement for safe standing and it is something that can hopefully help to improve match day atmosphere.
For the football fan, it is not like it once was, events such as the Hillsborough disaster paved the way for the terrace-destroying Taylor Report. Grounds at the time were death traps and the report was brought in for the safety of the supporters deeming stadiums to be all-seater.
The report resulted in football clubs leaving their original homes, Middlesbrough leaving Ayresome Park and Sunderland leaving Roker Park. These moves resulted in clubs building all-seater stadiums. These stadiums have begun to gain the nickname of “Soulless Bowls” due to the lack of acoustics in the ground.
Matchday atmosphere is something pivotal in a football match, it can turn a game on its head. When moves to new stadiums combined with a lack of support due to owners ‘ruining the club’ can have disastrous consequences for the team, such as the case for Coventry City. City average 9,111 attendance in a 32,000-capacity stadium. This lack of support combined with off-pitch issues resulted in the club being relegated to League Two.
Recent campaigns from the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) are challenging the game along with the law. They feel safe standing should be brought back to the grounds. They along with many of us want the feel-good factor that the terraces brought, the freedom, the continuous support, 90 minutes of singing and chanting your head off. Try do that in current modern stadia and you’ll be greeted with the following ‘Sit down I can’t see the game’. This is a common issue that can hopefully be tackled to bring back the terraces in the form of safe standing and make the matchday atmosphere what it once was.
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