“Hit all the blue jays you want…but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.”
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – Harper Lee (1960)
This may be one of the most imperative literary quotes of all time, from a bestselling novel that became a pivotal focus in the Civil Rights movement but I believe its meaning carries significance in today’s modern game. Not in the physical side of the sport but in the characteristic that used to make our game so unique, so envied by the rest of the world, our stadia atmosphere. English stadiums are losing their passion, their heart, their soul and are turning into silent, cooperate gatherings that make a theatre seem rowdy.
Being a lifelong Arsenal fan I know this only too well; Highbury was often the victim of ridicule from rival supporters due to its lack of atmosphere leading to the nickname “Highbury Library.” This embarrassing association is not restricted to Arsenal; Man United, Chelsea, Man City and even Liverpool have seen a decline in their home match atmosphere. The issue tends to be more relevant amongst the so called “bigger clubs” but this is most definitely a national dilemma. So what are the reasons behind this demise in match day ambience? We’ll here are a few.
Success and everything that comes with it; a greedy expectancy amongst supporters, which in turn creates a reduced appreciation of their team’s performance and of course an increase in ticket prices. The latter of the three has undoubtedly squeezed the working class hardcore; the fans who do don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for their team, the Mockingbirds, out of the stadia to a point where they are an isolated minority. In their place are big fat greedy vultures; supporters who remain seated the entire game arms folded, who expect their team to win 7- 0 no matter who they’re playing and who look at you like you’re criminal if you dare to start up song.
These hefty birds are hard to shift, something I tried to explain toa Chelsea fan when I was a teenager, when Arsenal were winning titles (wow that
seems so long ago now) and Chelsea were punching above their weight if they finished 5th. He would mock Highbury for its lack of atmosphere to which I would respond “wait till you win some titles and get stuck with those greedy fans, then you’ll see.” He gets it now; in fact I think he may well be one of those greedy fans.
To place the blame strictly on the attitudes of supporters would not be fair, especially since there are groups amongst us who still give their all to back their team. The club’s themselves must take a large slice of the criticism for creating the issue. When Sir Alex Ferguson publically criticised the Old Trafford crowd, Man United supporters placed the blame on stadium security. One spokesman even said that Old Trafford had turned into a “police state” where fans were not allowed to stand and barely allowed to sing. This is certainly something I can sympathise with; I have
been asked to sit down at the Emirates even though I was in the furthest row back with only a wall behind me.
There are fans who are trying to bring back the “good old days” of loud, intimidating atmospheres. Red Action is an Arsenal supporters group who insist on retro scarf waving, nonstop singing and eccentric bouncing during the match. Red Action has certainly done its best to improve the atmosphere of the Emirates but I believe that they and other supporters groups could be doing more. Not just with regards to the level of noise but in creating a more vibrant, visual spectacle.
Look at the Milan derby in Italy, the San Siro faithful create some of the most imaginative and captivating banners in the world, giant, enchanting, powerful pieces of imagery that get passed around the stadium, it’s truly breathtaking. Compare that to the pre-planned, cloned flags that are placed next to the seats by the clubs themselves for English fans to quickly wave at the beginning and end of a massive game; like the ones Chelsea have at Champions League matches and it’s not even a contest. It’s not all doom and gloom, last season there were a few top flight stadiums that created buzzing, partisan atmospheres on match days; Fratton Park, The Britannia and Turf Moore in particular caught the eye, or should I say the ear? I’m told by friends that Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road will serve as another hotbed of noise and passion, and it will be a welcome return to hear the enthusiastic ‘Toon Army’ once again.
There are many who would say that the size of these clubs means that their supporters are always going to be “more up for it” come match day. I understand that argument, supporters of teams from the lower tier of the Premiere League will undoubtedly appreciate their place in the top flight more than us followers of the established elite.
That doesn’t mean that we cannot re-ignite the passionate atmospheres of old, although this can only be achieved by a fairer pricing of tickets.
Then there can be a more even ratio of passionate supporters to, as Roy Keane famously said “the prawn sandwich brigade.” Then maybe they can be the isolated, embarrassed minority and we can look at them like criminals for not singing?
One thing that certainly won’t help the cause is the much loathed Vuvzela. Don’t get me wrong I thought it was ridiculous when people suggested it should be banned from the World Cup, it was an African tournament, they can celebrate it however they wish. But I don’t want that thing within 300 miles of North London; I went to a game against Spartak Moscow where one of the Russian fans played a similarinstrument for the entire game. It sounded like a wounded crow dying a slow, painful death; I much prefer the sound of a mocking bird thanks.
By Tom Conran
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