Manchester United supporters are on the threshold of winning their long-standing campaign for a dedicated singing section at Old Trafford, giving them the chance to deny visiting fans the chance to taunt them with Sir Alex Ferguson’s complaint after a match four years ago that “the crowd were dead; it was like a funeral.”
Fans’ demands for a singing section to lift the decibel levels have coincided with the club relocating away supporters to tier three of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, for last Sunday’s match with Aston Villa. Discussions will take place with Greater Manchester Police over the next two weeks to establish whether the new away fan arrangements, first trialled against Valencia in December 2010, have met safety standards in terms of segregation, coach parking and other logistical issues. If police and the local council are satisfied with the relocation of visitors – introduced because the south east quadrant provided minimal segregation potential and exposed United to hundreds of empty seats from visiting clubs who could not fill them - an area of 1,400, 1,900 or 2,500 season ticket holders will occupy the new singing section. The area will be renamed the Scoreboard Paddock for that purpose by the beginning of next season.
The section would also be located underneath the MUTV studios, where the presence of away fans has always forced producers to keep shutters across during games, to avoid them imposing themselves on live broadcasts. The new noise levels may be a challenge to Lou Macari, Viv Anderson and others, but at present images of fans from elsewhere are superimposed to create the backdrop.
A new supporters' consortium, Fans United, has also persuaded the club that fans should be allowed to dress the area of the ground as they see fit and to reclaim the Scoreboard Paddock name which in the days before the all-seater Old Trafford, was a by-word for noise. It will not be an area for non-season ticket holders. The idea is not that the singing section should become part of the Old Trafford tourist attraction but one where the decibel count will match that at some of United’s great European nights – or indeed the Darwen End at Ewood Park, where noise levels of 7,000 fans was very high during United’s 2-0 win earlier this month.
Visiting supporters have enjoyed capitalizing on the chance to taunt United fans with Sir Alex Ferguson’s words after the 1-0 win over Birmingham City on New Year’s Day 2008. Vocal fans’ common complaint is that the acoustics in the second tier of the Stretford End, where many of them sit, are not ideal. Nor is the distance from the pitch.
Some United fans are not in favour of shifting away fans, who in the case of Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Stoke City and – before relegation – Hull City, contribute hugely to the atmosphere. But Fulham attracted a mere 320 fans on March 26 and even Newcastle United failed to sell their allocation this season. In European competitions, visiting clubs must give seven days notice of the allocation sold but no such rule applies in the Premier League, which has left United with empty seats and the financial hit. There will be no pricing premium in a new singing section – with the £38 charge for the equivalent north east corner applicable to the corresponding singing section.