Welcome to the Premier League.
The home of fixing stuff that isn’t broken.
In case you missed the news from a few weeks ago, apparently PL clubs have now agreed a new proposal that means as from next season, top flight clubs will be required to have at least one block pitchside for away fans. Additionally, naturally the three championship clubs that join the Premier League next season, have no say in the matter.
I don’t want to tempt fate (there’s still a long way to go this season) but for the purpose of this article that let’s assume next May, by hook or by crook, we win promotion and return to the top flight. As great as it would be to be back where we belong, and not face trips to Burton and Rotherham next season, this new ruling really irks me.
In the very early 2000s, I went on the St James Park stadium tour for the first time. Having not grown up in the area, every trip to SJP back then as a youngster still felt magical, even when it wasn’t a matchday!
A few things stuck out for me that day.
Seeing the famous ‘Howay the Lads’ sign was obviously one, as well as the sheer enormity of the newly expanded 52,000 all seater. Another though, was when the tour guide pointed out the layout of the ground when full.
‘That’s where we shove the away fans’ he said, pointing at the Leazes corner area of level seven, ‘right out the way’.
Nowadays away fans have moved marginally, now fully behind the goal, still fairly ‘out the way’ though. I always liked the idea. Why would you want to help the opposition in any way? They are opponents after all, you have plenty of time to make them feel welcome in the city before and after the game.
I never understood fans clapping Jamie Vardy during the game, immediately after he equalled the consecutive games scoring record in the Leicester match last season. We should be looking to make St James Park a fortress in all areas and helping Rafa and the lads in any way possible. Letting away fans be pitchside will be a major obstacle in achieving this. We have been giving clubs an easy ride for far too long at our own backyard and this won’t help.
Premier League supremo Richard Scudamore claims this is all in a bid to boost the atmosphere at grounds.
“One of the unique things about our game, particularly in England, is the amount of away fans and the noise they create. When an away goal is scored, you want that atmosphere and interaction between the two sets of fans.”
In what way does moving them pitchside improve this atmosphere? I doubt away fans moving down into the Leazes End behind the goal would mean they would suddenly be louder when a goal is scored. Away fans usually go nuts when they score regardless of where they are sat. My view of our away section last season confirmed this.
If greater interaction between the two sets of fans is needed, why not move the away fans nearer the Gallowgate End. If the toon fans singing in Level seven also moved towards Gallowgate, then a generally greater atmosphere around the place would be prevalent, and the much needed ‘interaction’ between opposition fans would also be there. Yes it would need a massive re-organisation in the placing of season ticket holders, but this is long overdue in my opinion.
Atmosphere in football grounds in general is a touchy subject at the moment. Our place is no different. Sometimes the roar still makes hairs stand on the neck, particularly when the game is a belter, which helps at most stadiums, not just ours.
Recent routine championship wins are great – but also unlikely to lead to a tubthumping atmosphere for the entire 90 minutes. But that’s just human nature and can’t really be helped. I am all for improving our home support, but moving away fans further down into the heart of SJP is not the way to do it.
The superb work of Gallowgate Flags has given a reminder to what a brilliant place that part of the ground can be on matchday. Why can’t we continue this and make it our own version of the Dortmund ‘yellow wall’.
Hopefully the Premier League proposal ends up being dropped, but if not, I can see more, rather than less, atmosphere issues at SJP in the future.
Regardless, let’s hope this debate is relevant next summer!
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