Supporting your football team is more of a way of life than something of a science, but following Manchester United’s recent efforts to boost the atmosphere at Old Trafford, that might all be about to change.
Indeed, with the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ quite literally living up to its name in recent years, it appears the powers that be at United are so intent on making the atmosphere at their famous old ground more a white hot racket than a West End play, that they have in fact called in a group of audio experts.
Naturally, the news that one of the biggest clubs in the country has had to bring in a series of acoustic boffs to boost the atmosphere at a stadium that holds nearly 75,000 has come in for its fair share of ridicule from rival supporters.
But while the problems that United face in injecting a little more ferocity into their vocal support may be unique, the issue of quieter atmospheres at our grounds isn’t something that’s confined simply to the red half of Manchester.
The debate surrounding the quality of atmosphere within English stadia – particularly those plying their trade in the unworldly riches of the Barclays Premier League – is something that’s slowly evolved from a grumbling bone of contention amongst the wider footballing public, to a disheartening issue that now sits prominently amongst supporters’ agendas.
For some, the correlation between the super-charged financially inflated changes that the league has experienced in recent years and the generally perceived degradation in atmosphere is no coincidence. For others, the metamorphosis from the dark days on the terraces in the 1980’s to the family-friendly product that we currently see today, leaves some with little complaints whatsoever. So who’s correct?
The answer is of course, no one by right. There are no set guidelines quantifying what makes a good or bad atmosphere on a matchday and such is the nature of preference that it’s incredibly difficult to make broader observations that the vast majority of supporters are likely to agree with.
But it isn’t perhaps straying too close to the point of generalization, to suggest that Premier League crowds do seem to be moving into a different to the ones of not just 15 years ago, but perhaps as recent as three or four.
To the purist, the archetypal classic English atmosphere is a very simple ingredient. There are no draping 50ft banners that you might see abroad in the San Siro, nor is there an effervescent beat of a bass drum accelerating on in the background. The joy is of course, in the noise – not the colour.
Be it rattling out the club’s back catalogue of songs, goading a defender’s dodgy haircut or belting out a Que Sera, Sera, the key to cultivating a great atmosphere is within the sound of the terraces. Although while the use of terraces remains something of a colloquial term, it’s within their physical absence that many attribute to the disintegration of that spine-tingling English atmosphere.
But how much of the blame for poor atmospheres can supporters really proportion to the introduction of all-seater stadia?
The argument goes that atmospheres are of course likely to be louder and far more vibrant if fans are allowed to stand on their feet, rather than sit on seats with their arms folded and to some extent, that’s very difficult to argue with indeed. Although while some may argue to the contrary, considering all-seater stadia have been around in the top-flight since 1994, it feels difficult to attribute too much blame on the switch from standing to seating.
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Yet if the years following the implementation of the Taylor Report saw the fans which created such great atmospheres have to deliver their chants from their seats rather than their feet, the last five years has perhaps seen the biggest shift in those that are now taking to the seats.
As the Premier League has grown as a product, it’s not only the big corporate sponsors that are helping paying players’ astronomical wages. With the average price of a cheapest ticket to watch top-flight football now more than £30, the beautiful game can no longer be one that sits in the hands of the working class.
For some, the introduction of a wealthier clientèle to our nation’s football grounds has perhaps diluted the cauldrons of noise traditionally instigated by the country’s traditional core of support.
But is there really some form of intrinsic link between your bank balance and the amount of noise one is likely to make at a football game? It feels like something of a very loose connotation at best and while the corporate sections of grounds are perhaps the guiltiest of parties when it comes to poor atmospheres, they hardly constitute the vast majority of attendances.
It’s ultimately down to we, the supporters, to cultivate the atmosphere that we all pine for at our grounds. And it may well be that within the cultural changes that our game has rapidly experienced over the last few years, that it’s the fans who have perhaps unwittingly evolved as much as anything else.
Maybe we’ve simply heard our top division referred to as a ‘product’ so much, that we now attend games expecting to be entertained, rather than attending out of unnerving support for our chosen teams.
Have heads been turned by the Sky Sports generation and the unrelenting 21st century hype machine that surrounds the Premier League? Or has football simply been sanitized to the point where the raucous atmospheres of old simply aren’t encouraged anymore? There’s no easy answer, but one things for sure, it’s going to take a lot more than a selection of acoustic experts in order to fix.
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