`For years our football stadiums were the sort of places that animal rights activists would get unhappy about if calves were held there'
Saturday 22 April 1995
It is a statistical certainty, however, that in among the leaping and chanting hundreds would have been a significant number of people who were not having fun. These were not masochistic Manchester United fans there to watch the moment the title they fondly assumed to be their own going north. Nor were they disconsolate Crystal Palace followers wishing Colin Noades had told them to boycott this one, too. These were instead Blackburn supporters: the elderly, the infirm, the very short, desperately hoping the celebrating hundreds around them would sit down quick so they could see the rest of the match from the comfort of their own seat, people whose pleasure was being compromised by the behaviour of their neighbours.
This is the conclusion I have drawn, not from empirical evidence, but from the letters that came in following the piece I wrote on these pages a couple of weeks ago. It was about the campaign conducted by a group of Manchester United fans against a new by-law at Old Trafford which made standing up in the stadium an ejectable offence. Not fair, was the gist of my argument.
Steve Cawley, a United regular, however, was particularly incensed:
"I found the article dangerously out of date and written as if the Taylor Report never happened," he said in his letter. "It is championing the Club 18-30 view which lionises the screaming drunken invective which is more forcefully delivered from two feet than from a sitting position." Like Graham Jenkins, an Arsenal season ticket holder, and Susan Whalley, a Leeds fan, he was more than happy to see serial standers ejected along with the loud-mouthed and the racist:
"The section of the ground I have been fortunate to sit in," Mr Cawley continued, "is a well marshalled, safe environment giving an excellent vantage point of the proceedings... The only time such a quality environment is spoilt is on Cup games when Club 18-30 arrive bemoaning the lack of `atmosphere'."
Annie Smith, a Blackburn fan and partially disabled, wrote to say her enjoyment of the game had been compromised by standers in the seats. In the days of terracing, she would prop herself up in a place where the view was unlikely to alter. Now, as a slow riser, she misses much of the action. Which at Ewood Park at the moment is a considerable loss.
They all make a point which cannot be easily dismissed. For years the state of our football stadiums was a disgrace; in the 1970s and 1980s it was a joke. They were the sort of places that animal rights activists would get unhappy about if calves were held there on their last trip Francewards. Not suprisingly, given the environment, the patrons tended to behave like caged animals, if only in the manner in which they tended to urinate wherever they were standing. Since the grand rebuilding precipitated by the Taylor Report, grounds are now a pleasure to frequent, to take your children to, to take your wife to.
Only the most blinkered Luddite would contend it was preferable to be hemmed in on the terrace - the back of your trousers warm and damp with, at half-time, the queue for the Bovril longer than the McDonald's queue in Moscow -than it is to sit in comfort, view unobstructed, with an under- stand refreshment selection of seven different varieties of polenta and sun-dried tomatoes.
But the problem, it seems to me, is that in the haste to update, the clubs have not accommodated the wishes of all their patrons. While Mr Cawley, Mr Jenkins, Ms Whalley and Ms Smith are entitled to watch a game with their view unencumbered by the large behind of the person in front, surely the fan with the large behind is entitled to stand up occasionally in his or her excitement. "But people don't stand up in the theatre," wrote Mr S Carlton, another United fan. True enough, but then, whatever Alex Ferguson might fondly imagine, Old Trafford isn't a theatre: it's a football ground.
The point I was trying to make in the column, and the one the United Independent Supporters' Association will be making in greater numbers and more volume at today's mass meeting in the Manchester Free Trade Hall, is that there should be areas of the ground which are dedicated to the excited, just as there should be for those who prefer to remain seated. This can be achieved by pricing, by locating the family stand away from the areas behind the goals, by a bit of imagination.
It appears to be possible at grounds such as the Nou Camp and the San Siro, where the slickly dressed in their Continental overcoats sit to the sides, and smoke their cigars, while the Ultras gather behind the goal and bang their drums. Each knows their place, and neither interferes with each others' pleasure. But then imagination, and football administration have never been comfortable bedfellows.
Latest in Sport
Arsenal vs Aston Villa preview: I need to prove myself again at Villa, says Scott Sinclair
Transfer news and rumours LIVE: Juan Cuadrado to Chelsea, Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester City, United want Gareth Bale
Chelsea vs Manchester City player ratings: David Silva saves the day but which City star stole the show at Stamford Bridge?
Arsene Wenger photobombs Arsenal photo shoot - manages to look like famous 'Bigfoot' picture
Serena Williams wins Australia Open 2015: American beats Maria Sharapova in straight sets to claim a sixth title in Melbourne
- 1 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 2 City traders pay £200 for a quick hangover cure
- 3 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 5 Ball pool for adults opens in London
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
Hard line on immigration could cost Tories the election
£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...
£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...