Fanatics-Spectators-Observers or Customers
It is sad that in the UK and probably elsewhere across Europe you have to be a certain age to recall when times were so much simpler-and cheaper, when going to watch a game simply meant turning up on the day with a bit of cash and a lot of passion.
So where and when did things start to change and why.
How did simple fans evolve into the various brackets of sub-species, that I see at Champions League level-you know like at Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich where a small group, typically a couple of thousand young passionate flag waving ultra’s, for want of a better term are positioned behind the goal to add a little colour and noise to what is a global event. They are treated like old fashioned performing monkey’s in a 1980’s circus –just something to appease the purists that at least a few genuine local fans are still allowed permission to participate in what has now become little more than a global corporate junket.
This sad and pathetic state of affairs has not happened overnight I rely on other contributors from across Europe or further afield to share their stories of the changing face of football support –what I will try to do here is tell you mine-A Mancunian’s tale. I will try to keep it brief !
Ten years of age and a classmate at my primary school in Stockport (South Manchester) dares me to go to Old Trafford-so I arrive at the bus stop with my weekly allowance (spends) of 25p! My mate does not arrive-but I decide to go anyway-2p on the bus each way and 20p into the Stretford End Juniors-I hardly watch the game-well I could hardly see, but it does not matter because the noise and movement of the crowd gets into my very soul from that first visit. My first of many –although I had to leave at 4.15 every game to run and get the bus home so my parents who thought I had been at a local park every afternoon playing football would never know my secret Saturday afternoon destination. They often wondered why I was so desperate to see the United result –they never found out about my secret attendance until many years later!
By the age of 14, I was going to United legally as it were, my parents knew I went with school mates –we still stood in the Stretford End with a LMTB –League Match Ticket Book, it was I seem to remember about £1.80 to stand-there was a new Restaurant in the South Stand where the posh fans could have a meal and watch the game –but don’t worry we were told this money just helped supplement the normal fans admission prices.
Life goes on and I start to see the other side of football support-some hairy times travelling far and wide watching United and what the media had christened the English disease, or hooliganism was rampant. It was simple territorialism mixed with testosterone, but as the trouble continued it was clear that the Government was determined that something should be done. April 1989 and Hillsborough- incompetent policing combined with complete disregard for safety and an inability to treat football fans as human beings resulted in 96 people never returning from an FA Cup semi-final –RIP.
At this time most authorities were incapable of understanding that there was a separate group at most large football clubs that only represented 3 -5% of the average crowd who wanted to fight. With 21st Century technology it is now relatively easy to control these groups, but in the mid to late 1980’s the police were struggling and so football fans in general and that included the 90% or so who just wanted to support their team were all regarded as scum.
This was a big year for Football in the UK and for many including myself small alarm bells started to ring. Firstly the Taylor report into Hillsborough was published and although his recommendation was for safety at Terraces to be hugely improved but not removed the Authorities with the Governments blessing chose to interpret this by taking the nuclear option and ending all standing in the 1st and 2nd Division. I watched as my beloved Stretford End was demolished. In addition we were told overnight that our league system which had been in place for a Century was dead. United would now be a member of the Premier league –and to facilitate SKY maximising revenue we would now be playing games when they said –ie Sunday lunch time or Monday night. On a club by club level the top clubs were becoming more economically astute and recognising that revenue per head could be vastly increased by seeking commercialisation at every possible opportunity. Living outside Manchester at this time I could still get to quite a few games although at this time I would probably end up buying a ticket from a tout.
1996-football’s coming home!
This was another key year-Football’s image amongst the greater public had been rock bottom at the end of the eighties, but a combination of slick marketing by SKY combined with their dream scenario of the biggest club in the country returning to trophy winning ways under the mercurial direction of Alex Ferguson meant the business of football was on the up.
So when Euro 96 took place and the whole country took part in a football fiesta with fans travelling all over England safely and in large numbers –the reuniting of football with the people seemed complete.
For many United fans looking back this was a Golden Age-endless trophies, the ground being completely redeveloped things on the surface could not look more rosy. But something else was happening beneath the perfect facade portrayed nearly 7 nights a week on SKY and the BBC-the business of football was seriously grinding into gear –ordinary tickets were steadily increasing in price –pay on the gate games at the top level were becoming few and far between. Remember that first badly run restaurant in the South Stand 25 years earlier –well it did not stop there, by the turn of the Millenium there were several thousand enjoying Corporate Hospitality-the tail was starting to wag the dog! In other words now the Corporate supporter as well as paying 3 or 4 times the price of the average fan had 10 times the power with the club. These well heeled few were the future-they did not cause trouble they were easy to manage and so long as a club stayed near the top of the pile their revenue could be relied upon year after year.
Meanwhile what about the average working class fan earning an average wage-these were being squeezed and taken for granted. They were no longer allowed to stand or get too passionate-oh unless it was good for revenue-like the KOP singing YNWA at the start of a game because that was regarded as quaint and good for the image of the New Premiership fan sat in a bar in Europe or the Far East. Prices for season ticket started to rise significantly ahead of inflation-but the owners were’nt worried –football fans they correctly assessed were junkies and there was no way they could live without their weekly fix. So milk it –make them travel to the other end of the country on a Monday night, throw them out of the grounds if they dare to breach their own interpretation of health and safety –in fact treat them like shit because there will always be a never ending cue of saps behind only too keen to observe the new norms for watching Football.
I will not go over what others have written about a hundred times following the 12th May 2005-but ………………..
Be careful what you wish for-Cardiff City fans desperately wanted to emulate their South Wales rivals Swansea and reach the premiership-and now the Dragons (not Bluebirds) in their lovely new red kit have made it. At what price, and here is the crux of the debate what % of Cardiff Fans were prepared to stand against the rape of a great community based football clubs culture and actively protest or boycott. Probably it was similar to the 3-5% who walked away from United in 2005-fortunately at United that was still several thousand fans –so we were able to get organised and build from scratch. At Cardiff however –especially as they have achieved promotion the protesters are fighting a very uphill battle.
Against Modern Football
Several years ago when SOS stood for Sons of Shankly I was invited to attend one of their early meetings –I had put a post on RAWK under my cyber-name politico, sympathetic to their fight against the Hicks and Gillet owners-and to my surprise along with a little banter and some blind outright hatred much as was anticipated-there was some good meaningful dialogue. At the meeting it became clear that the obvious is true –although we are by our very definition tribal –there were more similarities about how normal long term fans were being increasingly sidelined by clubs who were focusing entirely on the needs of high revenue customers.
Unfortunately although I reported back positively the usual hatred and negativity came to the surface and the football authorities perfect antidote to meaningful fan action –our tribalism seemed to prevent fans from different clubs truly acting together to gain meaningful recognition at Football’s top table.
Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation are of course making small inroads –but meanwhile the fans are still getting shafted-so the Against Modern Football movement with which we are proud to associate this blog is just another attempt to crack the dam of apathy and contempt which rises all the way from the FA to the Premiership, UEFA and FIFA.
Football without Fans is indeed –Nothing
Rick –aka -politico
better term are allowed directly behind the goal to provide a little colour and noise to a gl