Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Saturday November 18 2006
While www.standupsitdown.co.uk continue in their efforts to try and achieve a common sense solution to the issue of standing in our football grounds it would seem from the feedback that reaches us that more and more supporters are increasingly disgruntled with many other issues; draconian and sometimes excessive stewarding, arrests for reasons that many would deem trivial (and a waste of tax payers money) that have lead to banning orders, atmospheres that are akin to visiting your local library, match day announcers and music drowning out traditional chanting and the increasing manipulation of fans to support their clubs in ways officialdom feel appropriate.
Fans of some clubs are fighting back with varying degrees of success. Arsenals` Red Action are given absurd 'health and safety' reasons against their having a large flag whereas Abramovich contributed financially so a group of supporters at Stamford Bridge could have a new flag made up. Middlesbrough have a 12th Man group that their club approve of, but the efforts of the Ultras at Leeds were thwarted at every turn by Bates and the management at Elland Road. Liverpool fans have started a 'Reclaim the Kop' group to educate what they call the Sky generation in the traditions of their club but a determined bunch of Man Utd fans are fighting against petty restrictions at Old Trafford that would see them taking in their large flag just once a season. Apparently, the club just don`t have the resources for them to display their flag…
On arrival at my club, West Ham, the norm now is to be greeted not by friendly stewards but burly and surly teams of "security" who rudely demand to look in your bag or search you. Similar applies to away fans, no warm East End welcome, just hauled out of the que for a full search regardless of your age or appearance. I for one find it alarming that these stewards and teams of security personnel have more powers than the police and many, I`m sure, delight in exercising their power rather than use it appropriately.
Once you`ve surrendered your bottle tops, umbrellas or any other item that could be deemed an offensive weapon or potential missile and made it to your seat don`t waste your breathe and try to start singing; within seconds you`ll be battling against a sound system as powerful as any night clubs as it blasts out the latest hit! You may have been given inflatable sticks to knock together or a pre-approved, safety passed small flag could have been left on your seat for you to wave around as your players make their way to the pitch. How goals are celebrated are invariably dictated to by the club as Tom Hark is blasted out the second the ball hits the back of the net, if there is no music, be careful how you celebrate a goal in case a steward deems you over zealous! And as for wanting to stand up, well we all know what happens then!
Don`t even bother directing any song or gesture towards the away fans, you may be hauled out by several coppers clad in riot gear; woe betide you if you start singing something that may be deemed racist, sexist or any other "ist" by the stewards. A set of northern supporters who were being derogatory about East London when Leyton Orient were the opposition were told they were being racist as were the supporters who sung that Newcastle was "just a small team from Scotland". Of course there are always two sides to every story but with depressing regularity we get to know of fans who`ve either been ejected or threatened with ejection for behaviour that was not only accepted but considered part of being a football fan for us not to take their indignant claims seriously and as truthful.
Why is this? What is behind this relentless drive to turn our stadiums into serene havens where our emotions are controlled by music and stewards? Some say those in power won`t be happy until the working classes no longer comprise the majority of supporters. Some may feel that perhaps such thinking is the result of an over active imagination but given the ticket prices of many clubs perhaps there is an element of truth is this argument. Certainly if you consider that we`re apparently in need more 'education` when it comes to matters of race and domestic violence you could consider that we`re collectively viewed as a bunch of knuckle dragging, partner abusing racists like no other group in society! I bet the crowds at Twickenham or Lords aren`t on the receiving end of notes in programmes and displays by local school kids reminding them racism and 'partner abuse` is not only wrong but against the law.
If the behaviour of the modern fan was akin to that of 20 odd years ago, they`d be plenty of justification of how we`re treated today but the crowds now are so far removed from those times that every incident involving supporters (or even club managers!) is guaranteed more headlines and commentary than people blowing each others brains out at nightclubs or on the streets!
The Government is determined that every leisure activity from visiting an old wreck of an ancient castle to a football ground should be accessible and welcoming to all. Is this behind the increasing efforts to sanitise the game? Football is unique and just not comparable to any other sport or past time. Fans are tribal and in my experience all that matters to fans is that those next to them are wearing the same shirt as they are. Certainly as a woman I`d have no qualms about travelling to a game on my own as I`ve done a couple of times; I feel safer more comfortable surrounded by my fellow fans than I do in other circumstances. Certainly, I get served at the bar very quickly as I`m pushed to the front by the blokes around me!
Indeed a rather 'well to do` female columnist in the Times wrote in amazement at how well she was treated by fans and how much she enjoyed the atmosphere when she very reluctantly accompanied her young son to a Premiership game. Another woman journalist, also attending her first game last week wrote with enthusiasm at how entertained she was by the "fight" between Wenger and Pardew and that going to live games was much more fun that going to the theatre and yet these type of woman are supposedly terrified at the mere thought of going to a match hence the apparent desire to rid those who don`t sit quietly for 90 minutes from the stands completely.
Is it really necessary to treat supporters in such contempt just so fans new to the game can attend? Surely while the fans have moved on with the vast majority behaving, the authorities view us as if from a time warp and they continue to so at their peril. If this drive to apparently alienate the 'traditional' fan from the game by either pricing them out or deciding their behaviour isn`t appropriate nor welcome continues then sooner or later these same people will be scratching their heads and wondering where we all are.
At least once a season, dropping attendances will hit the headlines; to thousands of us the solution is simple, bring back standing areas, stop manufacturing the atmosphere and let fans continue doing what they`ve done for over one hundred years.. supporting their teams vocally and passionately while on two feet. Stadiums are plenty big enough to accommodate both the sitters and the standers, lets start talking before it is too late.
By Amanda Matthews www.standupsitdown.co.uk
Date:Saturday November 18 2006
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