Sunday, August 06, 2006


New Stadiums, Old Atmospheres

Once upon a time stadiums were busy ripping out terracing and introducing seats, thereby reducing their capacity. Now we’re looking at new stadiums with increased capacity as TV money floods the game clubs seek to maximize their take through the gate and reduce their reliance on Sky’s coffers.

All very tickety boo but when the bean counters do their sums they fail to take into account emotion. What kept me and others from traveling the length and breadth of the country during the turgid 80’s? Sure as hell wasn’t the dross served up on the pitch. We wwent for the banter, for the laugh, for the fashion tips!

Without this emotion, this passion you are left with an empty shell. Sit politely and clap politely while eating your bagel, this is the vision the football chiefs have for our game and with stadiums running at nearly 100% capacity maybe they’re right. Camera totting tourists sit next to prawn sarnies and get excited when they see Bergkamp or Henry do their stuff while the atmosphere that our game is so famous for is quashed by over zealous stewards or Tristan from Bury St Edmonds who objects to Jesus said Paddy I sang it so well.

There is no denying some of the progress the game has made since the 80’s when you needed a passport to get past Watford and Wagon Wheels were the snack food of choice sold from wooden shacks at the back of the terraces. Stadiums are more comfortable, views, sorry I understand they’re called sight lines today, are better and tickets are so much more expensive, but hey let’s add on a booking fee as well, just squeeze that extra few bob from the punter eh? But where’s the passion? Surely not all spent in the club shops and restaurants around the ground?

Clubs, and certainly ours, have never been very good at thinking about the fans. Ok, we never had fences so we weren’t so bad but you get the feeling the current Arse guardians would now install them then find some way to make money from them. These crowd control fences are brought to you by Trill Birdseed. Essential food for our caged friends…

Once upon a time there was no way we could voice our displeasure. We could stop going but…sorry, that wasn’t an option. A football club is for life. You could write to the club hoping to get printed in the programme but they’re only interested in people from Madagascar having a son called Liam enrolling in the Junior Gunners.

Now there are more options. First through fanzines, now the internet. Rather like the magazine market the internet market is segmentised with places like Arsenal World for the young and the Johnny come lately, The Herd for those who know the score. Supporters will never be united, witness the North Bank incidents when Terry Neill was under fire but surely all agree with the need for some atmosphere? Maybe not where they sit but in another part of the ground. So while architects, directors and money men decide on the shape a new ground will take the poor punter has little or no input.

So the Arse have decided they need a new stadium, belatedly realizing 38,500 is too small to accommodate their supporter base. One wonders whether they got their money back on the 16 million quid North Bank Stand but that’s by the by. The Arse are seeking an alternative that would increase crowds and their take at the gate. Having seen sketches on the web it looks like any other recent stadium. Oval shaped, roofed, multi tiered stands with executive boxes, no atmosphere. Why is it beyond their understanding to create a viable enclosure where lads who wanted to get together and have a sing song could do so without upsetting the NIMBY Ruperts? What is so difficult about this beyond the fact that these upstarts would probably not be able to afford tickets for what would be a prime spot in the ground?

It would be great if we, often so innovative in the football world, could lead the world by going back in time. Mr Dein me old mucker, what about this. Behind one goal build a giant stand alone single tier terrace. Keep out the Ruperts and NIMBYS, give it to the real supporters, the ones alienated by the way football is going. Let them sing and dance, let them wave flags, let them create the atmosphere that makes our game the most popular in the world. Give it a name. The Rocky Rocastle Stand. The North Bank.

At the other end build your multi tier stand with boxes and stuffed animals walking the pitch. Have an away enclosure next to a family area; let the away fans grimace in embarrassment every time the stuffed dinosaur wave at them. Put a clock in there some place, call it the Clock End. Or the George Armstrong Stand. You then have the side stands to fill with your corporate cronies and Ruperts. They can look down on the atmosphere, even enjoy it but safe in the knowledge those oiks are far away. Maybe keep end of an upper tier by the Clock End for unnumbered seating so we can get some kind of atmosphere there as well so we have sound echoing round the ground.

Simple huh?

This article is based on an earlier version that appeared on the web in about 2001…

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