How Arsenal stood up for themselves

Click to follow
IT IS right and proper that the country which gave football to the world should be occasionally rewarded for its generosity, which is why Arsenal's victory over Parma in the European Cup-

Winners' Cup final in Copenhagen on Wednesday was a fitting triumph for the yeoman qualities of the British game. Normally the subject of much self-maligning by those who would have us play in the manner of foreigners, the way in which Arsenal exhibited the traditional virtues of our game received rare salutes from all quarters.

Their manager, George Graham, deserves congratulation for organising his depleted forces into a unit capable of overcoming an Italian team of superior technique. Graham admits that he would like to incorporate some extra flair in the future but his achievement was to make the most of what he had. Among what he had was his captain and centre-half Tony Adams, who is cruelly mocked by rival fans as a donkey. As Parma's prized but frustrated attackers discovered, the defence that brays together stays together.

But there was something else significant about Arsenal's presence in the Parken Stadium on Wednesday. Observant viewers would have noticed that behind one of the goals a large group of spectators were standing despite being in the midst of rows of seats. These were Arsenal fans displaying another example of our stubborn adherence to tradition.

Not only did we teach football to the rest of the world, we taught them how to stand. Do you think they would have thought of it themselves? If Britain had invented tip-up seats at the same time as creating football, they wouldn't have experienced the delights of being part of the huddled masses. Neither would we, come to that, and the nation would have been spared the waves of nostalgia now sweeping through the damp-eyed ranks of football folk.

The closing of the Kop at Anfield last week was just one of the fond farewells being taken of those precious terraces that have borne the feet of millions over the past century. Upon them has been imprinted the sole of the nation; and a few heels too, unfortunately.

From the start of next season there is to be no standing at Premiership or First Division matches and there are many who welcome this as a development from which the game is bound to benefit in the long run. However, my message to the football authorities and to Lord Chief Justice Taylor, whose inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster five years ago brought about this revolution, is this: don't imagine for one minute that because you have done away with standing areas you have done away with standers.

Those who stood behind the goal in Copenhagen may have been doing so more through habit than defiance, but they represent a significant number who seem not yet ready to comply with the new rules even though they will be obliged to pay for a seat.

When Millwall moved to their brand new all-seater stadium at Senegal Fields at the start of the season, many who followed them from Cold Blow Lane preferred to remain standing. The club's chief executive, Graham Hortop, was telling me the other day that although the majority have now settled into their seats it is the visiting fans who still insist on standing, particularly those in the back rows.

It is with no wish to be a prophet of doom that I point out that we may have stumbled on a potential problem. Even among the traditional occupiers of the best seats there is often conflict between those who are brought to their feet by moments of high drama and those who prefer to remain rooted. If large groups insist on standing throughout the game there is an increased risk of turbulence from anyone whose view is blocked. It would be ironic if the largest and most fundamental safety measure ever introduced into our game should lead to trouble of an unprecedented nature.

Football followers will, no doubt, get used to seated spectating eventually but what might take even longer to sink in is what has happened to the capacities of our grounds. The largest capcity at an English club ground next season will be 44,411 at Old Trafford, where the ground record is 76,962, set in 1939.

Across Manchester at Maine Road, the highest attendance was 89,569 for a match against Stoke City in 1934, which is a record for any game played outside London or Glasgow. When they finish rebuilding Maine Road, its capacity will be 36,000. Throughout the Premiership and the Endsleigh League, most clubs will now be operating at a half or less of the capacities they once enjoyed.

This hasn't happened overnight and most of the records were set in days of spectator discomfort which would not be tolerated now. The fact remains that for many reasons - over-zealous safety officers being high among them - there has been a drastic reduction in the number of people able to watch our top football matches. Kevin Keegan has signed a 10-year contract with Newcastle United and is promising to make it the biggest club on earth. St James' Park (ground record 68,386 in 1930) has a new capacity of 38,000, which will make that promise hard to keep. Newcastle are just one of a number of English clubs with excellent potential and the more success they get, the more spectators they will need and the more people will want to see them.

Where are they going to put them all? They'd better not screw down the new seats too tightly.

BOOKIES' friends in Parliament will this week make another attempt to open betting shops on Sundays. Having been rightly rebuffed on previous occasions, they will be back this week to support a new move to bring in Sunday racing with on- and off-course betting.

The Tory MP Jim Paice has tabled the motion hoping, he says, 'that Parliament will recognise the public's demand for racing, with betting, on Sunday'.

What demand? Every regular punter I've spoken to wants the betting shops to stay shut on Sunday to give his pocket a day of rest. If they want to bet on a Sunday event, they'll do it on Saturday or use a telephone account. When racing experimented with two Sunday race meetings last year the courses were packed with families who couldn't care less about the lack of betting.

The new owners of Epsom are said to be considering switching the Derby to Sunday if the latest move comes off. They should go ahead in any case. They will find that this great event doesn't rely on betting for its appeal. I hope MPs won't fall for this latest ruse. Punters, betting shop employees and those who work in the stables will thank them for it.

LAST weekend's Rugby League Cup final was as ex citing as ever despite no Welsh player being involved. I was, therefore, surprised when I spoke to a pal who had been to Wembley.

'Bloody Welshman let us down,' he growled.

'What Welshman?' I asked.

'Bonnie Tyler,' he replied.