The question of the declining atmosphere at OT is one that’s been done to death over the years. All seater stadia, prohibitive ticket prices, an aging fanbase, lack of unreserved seating – we all know the contributing factors. It’s got to the point now where even games like Liverpool and City can’t be relied upon to rouse the crowd either – there’s the usual expectation and hype beforehand, but all too often the games themselves have been relatively subdued affairs in comparison with past meetings. There’s more of a buzz about the place certainly, but the necessary level of frenzied (for want of a better word)…‘hatred’ doesn’t seem to be there anymore.
People often wheel out their experiences from decades previous to explain what’s missing from the modern day game. When I first started going in the early 80’s, my Dad and his cronies would regularly regale me with tales of the 60’s and 70’s to explain what a ‘real’ atmosphere was like. ‘You had be here at 1pm, otherwise you’d be locked out’ and all that kind of caper. The 80’s are held in regard as halcyon days now, but in reality they weren’t the all-singing, all-dancing, maelstrom of noise and excitement they’re remembered as – for the most part they were pretty crap.
Think back to the games you remember from that era and you’ll recall the handful (if that) of big European nights or the FA Cup QF’s v’s Everton and West Ham…or beating the scousers on occasion. No one cites the turgid 0-0’s vs West Brom or the defeats to Norwich – played out in front of perpetually frustrated, below capacity crowds. The football was mostly shite during that era and for the most part, the atmosphere at the games reflected that. It was still ace, though.
Like misty-eyed pensioners harping back to bombed out houses and rationing, what people really miss from that period is the sense of camaraderie and the collective hope that things might some day improve on the pitch. Although we once existed in relative squalor, we wouldn’t change those days for the world. Yet here we are now, stuck scratching our heads, thinking ‘what the fuck?’ in the theme park-esque utopia that is the post-promised land, modern day OT. Times have changed and there are some advantages, I don’t want to spend hours queuing up for a place on the terraces anymore. I’m quite content arriving 2 minutes before kick off and taking my usual seat, thanks very much.
Where I sit in K-Stand, there’s little evidence of this influx of middle class supporters that has supposedly invaded ‘our’ game. Sure, there are certainly more women and kids in attendance than there were once upon a time – but for the most part, I see the same faces that have been going for years. Yet K-Stand is rarely the raucous, bear-pit that it was once-upon-a-time – more often than not it’s flat and subdued. I just sense that after 20 years of watching the team clean up domestically, most just can’t really be arsed anymore. Collectively, we’ve become spoilt and lazy.
Try to recall the games at Old Trafford that were properly bouncing over the last 5 years. The last one was the League Cup SF v’s City a couple of years ago and before that you’ve got the CL Semi against Barca. Other than that, I’m genuinely struggling. A bit further back I can recall the 1-0 v’s Chelsea when Fletcher scored and better still, the 2-0 win vs Arsenal on the day we ended the ‘Invincibles’ run.
On the rare occasions the team needs a lift, the OT crowd haven’t responded in recent times. The Blackburn game on New Year’s Eve was appalling. After being 2-0 down and then pulling it back to 2-2 with 25 minutes to go, there was nothing – a brief celebration after the equaliser but then everyone settled back down and waited for the inevitable winner. The place could and should have been rocking, but we’re complacent these days – that’s what watching this team has done to us. We turn up, we expect, the team normally delivers.
The answer, according to a proposal recently sent to the club by the rodent-fronted, Stretford End Flags group is to introduce yet another singing section into the proceedings. Excuse me for not sharing much enthusiasm for this idea, but is there really any point to this other than gaining further publicity for the group itself? Designing and funding banners/mosaics is one thing, but I don’t see how shifting round a couple of thousand season tickets in the Scoreboard Paddock (East Lower) will bring about any marked improvement in the stadium noise levels.
One has to bear in mind that the last such initiative (the singing section located in ST2) achieved very little other than lead to an increase in 200mph, happy-clappy versions of ‘Take Me Home’ and ‘Build A Bonfire’. To my mind, there either is an atmosphere or there isn’t one. You can’t force these things and doing so is exactly the kind of contrived, Soccer AM style bullshit we should be attempting to steer clear of.
The most disheartening part of SEF’s blueprint for OT’s future however, is the genius proposal to shift visiting fans from their existing home in the SE corner (or L Stand as I’m going to insist on still calling it), up into the 3rd tier of the North Stand. Word is that the club are fully behind the plan and are set to trial it at the Villa game in a few weeks time. Whilst this is undoubtedly fantastic news for the poor sods with the misfortune to hold season tickets up there, the implications for those of us residing nearer sea-level are pretty grim.
It’s obvious (check Ajax and Bilbao recently) the presence of visiting fans leads to an improved atmosphere about the place, and that most of the noise generated at pitch level currently stems from the left hand side of K-Stand – mainly due to their close-proximity to the away supporters. Surely moving the visitors from this area will only result in further life being sucked out of the ground?
Sticking visitors up in Tier 3 no doubt makes logistic sense to the club. Away fans will be easier to segregate and police, plus there’s the added bonus of being able to offload the worst seats in the house to them at a premium price. I suspect we’ll then see the existing visitors’ coach park re-located to behind the North Stand somewhere, which in turn will free up the recently pedestrianised forecourt. In place of the traditional sights of police escorts and piles of horseshit, instead we’ll see one of those godawful fanzone areas erected in which further £’s can be extracted from willing daytrippers. The club must be rubbing their hands together at the prospect.
I suppose it’s indicative of where we are now when you’ve got groups purporting to represent fans’ interests not only backing, but actually devising such nonsense. The atmosphere is shocking for the most part now, but as I’ve made clear, I’m not naïve enough to think there’s a solution readily available that will magically transport us back to a golden age that never really existed to begin with. You can’t force people to sing and generate noise, it has to happen organically for it to have any meaning. SEF would be better advised to focus on protecting the fans’ culture that still exists in the ground, not risk its further erosion by attempting to impose ill-conceived changes. Perhaps I should just be content they haven’t suggested drummers and trumpets yet?
Copyright Red News – March 2012