Modern Bloody Football – Part 9 – Atmosphere
The last two home games have seen a massive improvement in the atmosphere.
As seems to be the case, it usually does improve when we feel wronged (Aguero’s offside goal) or the opposition are taking the mick (Crystal Palace’s game plan to waste as much time as possible right from the off).
The social media age allows for almost instant feedback from those watching on the box to keep those in the ground updated on the latest travesty, although sometimes that can be a little biased for more marginal decisions.
If Rafa fails to keep us up then I’m hoping he has seen what the club (by which I mean the fans) is like in the hard times and thinks of the potential if he could get us going once again. In the bars I visited after the game on Saturday, you’d think we’d just made it to a cup final rather than scraped out of the relegation zone for at least a week.
I was surprised at the lack of away fans from Manchester given they have such an incredible winning record against us. Either they were bored of watching their lads win comfortably against us or they were saving their pennies for a trip to Madrid? I think if we were having such success we would find the money somehow. Maybe turn the central heating down a couple of notches, downsize from Heinz to ALDI baked beans, sell some of the kids’ toys or just default on the mortgage.
I also take offence at how the other Manchester club’s fans are lauded for their vociferous following and extensive songbook. Of course it must be so hard to follow such a boring team who flirt with relegation every year, bless them. On the rare occasion that NUFC come out on top the opposition end is usually surprisingly quiet, funny that.
A Personal History Lesson
My first recollection of attending St James was a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Watford in around 1980, I would have been 9 years old. I remember taking the skin off my finger trying to climb onto a concrete barrier in the West Stand paddock near the tunnel.
I’m just young enough to have missed the experience of a covered in Leazes End and my upbringing was mostly in a ground exposed to the elements, whereas almost every other club at least had the home fans covered.
I struggle to think of a ground I visited where the home fans terrace was not covered. A roof was something we craved not only to keep out the elements but to help generate some noise that would have been incredible given we usually made quite a din on the uncovered terraces regardless.
The old days of terracing meant you could pretty much stand where it suited you. If you wanted to sing and jump around you made your way to where other like-minded souls were. Even when pi**ing down with rain the atmosphere was great despite our roofless experience. The flip side was that if you were sick of being barged around or have someone vomit or wee down your back, you could quite easily move to where it was less raucous.
It seemed like a rite of passage that you would attend an away game hundreds of miles from home, get soaked and then sit on a bus back north for 4 hours in soaking wet jeans. Of course the same would be true if you were a visitor to St James Park back then as away fans were exposed to the same poor facilities as the home fans.
The thing about those days of old were that you could chase the atmosphere if you wanted to. I frequently moved between the Scoreboard, The Corner and the Leazes depending on where I felt I was going to get the best enjoyment and participation in the atmosphere. The Modern Football way of needing a season ticket means you are stuck with what is (or isn’t) going on around you. Obviously the current mess at St James’ means there are current opportunities to move around the ground more easily if you want to pick and choose your games but at some point the season ticket situation will rear its head and you’ll be stuck again with your neighbour for good or bad.
After having a season ticket in the Gallowgate Wing of the old West Stand in my early teens with my dad, I returned in my late teens (after sacking off playing Saturday afternoon football) to a seat in the Milburn just along from the Leazes Wing section. After one season, which ended with that David Kelly moment against Portsmouth, I moved into that Leazes Wing section the following season with my nephew. The atmosphere generated there was brilliant. Frequent visitors among that section were Terry Hibbitt (on the wing) and Franky (wanky) Worthington who joined in with the songs being sung about them and the general banter. The crack was excellent. Then at the end of that season a reluctant decision was made to move into the new Leazes End so that 6 of us could get seats together.
The atmosphere from the redeveloped St James Park improved further, with a combination of the team doing significantly better, but also the enclosed acoustics helping circulate the songs around the ground. The Leazes Wing was still the place where the noise usually sparked up from but the rest of the ground tended to join in more too. The disbanding of that section was detrimental in many respects.
For me the increase in capacity to 52k opened up the previously more enclosed stands holding 36k which seems to have lost some of that acoustic value. I tolerated that for a few seasons until halfway through the Championship season 3 of us moved up to Level 7 where we found our mojo again. Around 2 – 3000 participators made every home game a bit more exciting despite being told from mates in the East Stand that the noise did not always travel very well. Those of us up in level 7 though didn’t really care that much as we were enjoying singing and dancing regardless and being next to the away fans always sparks a bit of banter too.
I suppose the only good thing about being relocated (kicked out thanks to Mr Ashley) was that I wasn’t stuck next to the Mackems no doubt gloating season after season recently. So now I find myself in the Strawberry Corner, where I’ve even moved 20 seats away from my original position due to some dubious characters next to that first seat. Now I’m in the back row and can stand without complaint but the atmosphere is still generally poor.
As I mentioned right at the start, unless there has been a wrongdoing then the only time the crowd gets going, other than for a goal, is the 17 minute applause. I don’t get why people can take a minute out of their day to get involved in that but for the rest of the game are largely happy to observe rather than participate.
To be fair, I occasionally bought the odd seat ticket for myself in the days you could choose between a seat or the terrace. Sheff Wed away was always a good opportunity to buy a seat ticket as up a height behind the goal gave a great perspective of the game, plus the wooden seats made a cracking noise when everyone stood up and gave them a good old rattling!! Magic!!
It seems a little ironic that this month’s perspective on Modern Bloody Football coincides with the end of the Hillsborough Inquiry.
On Saturday 15th April 1989 I was playing U18 football for Winlaton Juniors against Cleveland Hall up in Wrekenton. I remember when our game finished, we came off the pitch and one of the lad’s relatives who had the radio on told us “there’s been hell on at the semi-final.” It wasn’t until we got home that it began to emerge why that game had been abandoned. It is well documented that this could have happened to ourselves (and probably fans of other clubs too) and there has since been a complete overhaul of football stadia in general. It has definitely had a major impact on atmosphere’s across the country.
Peter Caton’s book “Stand Up Sit Down” is worth a read to hear all the arguments for and against standing at matches and he covers most football supporters’ views which I won’t regurgitate here. Years ago we had that choice but the modern way of all seater stadiums now largely results in stale atmospheres and hence why some fans continually choose to stand, particularly at away games.
Unless you’re a winning and entertaining team the excitement on the terraces soon evaporates. In my view this is due to having to stick your bum on the seat you’ve been allocated and being stuck with observers rather than participators. My 84 year old mother gets off her backside at church to sing so why shouldn’t we at the match? It almost feels like some fans want to be part of the game but are too shy to join in. It must be said though that the lack of characters and desire/attitude on the pitch inspiring the fans has a lot to do with it too.
You know what I blame for the lack of home goals at St James Park these days? It’s those bloody flags, which in my opinion offer nothing to match day atmosphere. The place of a flag should be in the stands in the hands of the fans but even that has been outlawed to an extent too. The crowd celebrating like we’ve always done is enough. We don’t need gimmicks or the introduction of poor young lads who are underemployed with a remit to wave a geet big flag around for the purpose of god knows what when NUFC do manage to stick the ball in the net.
When we do score who directs their eyes towards this area of the ground? To be honest I’m assuming these flags get waved as I’ve not really noticed because I really couldn’t give a stuff. Do the TV cameras home in on the lads tasked with a bit of waving?
Other clubs have their “goal music” which is nauseating and shows a lack of imagination. The times I’ve been to Villa Park were cringeworthy when they would get a corner and the video screens would flash “Villa…Villa”. It’s embarrassing that the crowd need motivating by some computer geek working a bit of technology. Where is the spontaneity?
Last week I was watching MOTD2 and the Leicester game with the fans all using their “clappers” reminded me of an England Youth International game where it sounded like a crowd of prepubescent schoolkids experiencing something for the first time, not quite cherry popping.
It will be a sad day if we ever join the goal music / clappers brigade.
I could waffle on for ages about various games and atmospheres that send a shiver down the spine but that would probably bring the internet to a grinding halt. There have been some stand out days and nights, Barca and Juve spring immediately to mind and Keegan’s debut against QPR. I’m sure others will have their own favourites.
Away from home there was a game at Loftus Road under Keegan where we were 3-0 down after about 15 minutes and for the rest of the first half it was just constant noise from our lot.
And the Friday night we rocked up at Anfield only to be humped 4-0 for all the world to see, just incredible support considering our usual failure.
I must also mention the 4-1 loss at the Baseball Ground under Keegan. I wasn’t there but listened on the radio while at work and again you’d think we were winning a European Final not down to 8 men and heading for oblivion. I often wonder what the home fans must think when they see us respond in that manner.
Newcastle United of course have historically been renowned for passion and noise off the pitch in dire circumstances. Our (my!!) expectations rarely exceed avoiding a spanking, particularly this season where our away form has been particularly bad. I think it is fair to say that the footballing establishment would absolutely crap their pants if we ever managed a fraction of the success some clubs have had over the last 20 years or so.
After the match on Saturday one of the lads reckoned that an estimated 12,000 Geordies are planning to head to Villa Park. By the time we were onto our third pint that figure had reached 20,000. Although I think that is highly unlikely, I have witnessed some incredible followings and that story is definitely staying in my back catalogue. As one of the lads often says, “why let the truth spoil a good story.”
Oh how I long for the halcyon days of standing on an open terrace, the rain hitting you sideways as someone pi**ed down the back of your leg to a rendition of the Blaydon Races, followed by a full on mosh pit style eruption of fans bouncing down the concrete. Having said that, the toilets are much nicer these days and we finally have that roof we so long craved, as for the seats though, not so much in my book.
The sooner NUFC introduce a safe-standing area at St James’ the better, although I worry by the time they do, I’ll be so old I’ll need a bloody sit down.