Where have the atmospheres at Premier League grounds gone?
“Sometimes you wonder, do they understand the game of football? We’re 1-0 up, then there are one or two stray passes and they’re getting on players’ backs. It’s just not on. At the end of the day they need to get behind the team. Away from home our fans are fantastic, I’d call them the hardcore fans. But at home they have a few drinks and probably the prawn sandwiches, and they don’t realise what’s going on out on the pitch. I don’t think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell ‘football’, never mind understand it.”
This is of course the infamous rant by Roy Keane, following a Champions League tie against Dynamo Kiev in 2000, which kick-started the debate of changing atmospheres in football stadia, and whether they had an effect when it comes to on-field performances. Although he may have been a bit blunt in his criticism of the home support, it has to be said that the Irishman’s comments have some form of validity, with the atmosphere at some Premier League grounds deteriorating over the years.
It would be unfair to say that specific grounds are ‘dead’ come match-day, but there is a distinct difference in atmosphere between the stadia of today and yesteryear. Although this may have a little to do with the conversion to all-seater grounds, following the events of Hillsborough, the vast majority of top-tier venues still possess capacities of approaching 30,000. Such numbers should be able to produce cauldron-like atmospheres, intimidating the opposition and giving the home side a much needed boost.
The mood of crowds at the Emirates and Stamford Bridge have been particularly disappointing this season, with supporters openly voicing their discontent, whilst failing to produce the sort of ambiance that should be present with two of the nations leading clubs. The problems at Arsenal in particular, embody the issues surrounding support in grounds, with ticket prices rising, and subsequently forcing out those who cannot afford to attend. With football’s working class roots, the vast majority of supporters simply cannot justify the outlay on tickets to view their clubs. Prices are rapidly increasing, with seats in the red half of North London reaching around £60, forcing a majority of supporters away from the stadium. I’m not suggesting that those who do attend are not real supporters, but typically the more affluent the crowd the quieter the stadium becomes, and with prices rising only those earning higher amounts can afford the admission, either through match-day tickets or a season-long subscription.
When you consider that fathers, or mothers, will want to take their children with them to the games, then the cost really escalates. Three or four tickets, plus travel and refreshments can, for some, equate to a weeks wage, making the whole experience just too far out of reach, alienating fans and deterring the next generation. When people talk of their first footballing experience, it will often be a grainy picture in the back of the mind of walking toward the turnstiles clutching a relative’s hand, whilst wearing the scarf of your chosen team. If parents, or aunts and uncles, are deterred from taking their offspring on match day, the future generation will have greater difficulty creating a link between themselves and their chosen club.
As a result of pricing, the offers from Sky, along with various illegal internet streaming sites, become far more attractive. Although the atmosphere is never the same, viewing from the luxury of your own living room for the fraction of the cost can be more desirable, especially in the current economical climate.
All of this deters fans from attending games, and eventually erodes the vocal support at a stadium. Tickets at high prices are increasingly snapped up by tourists and fair weather fans, who may just attend a game in a fancy stadium purely to say I’ve been there. They may follow the club, but their vocal support will usually be lesser than somebody who is a life-long fan, brought up focusing on said club.
With the vast levels of income secured by Premier League clubs through Television rights, prize money, sponsorship and other financial inlets, a reduction of ticket prices by a small amount would surely not dent their financial security. A small decrease would allow some fans to justify the investment, building the atmosphere and in turn aiding the on-field performance of the team.
Although it may be forgotten in the boardroom on occasion, the fans are the most important people at the football club. Without a loyal following, teams would not be able to function, so its about time their feelings are put first.
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