A Simple Solution To Get The Atmosphere Back At Old Trafford…
When you look over what Manchester United have achieved over the past 20 years, it is almost overwhelming. Unprecedented success. However, looking past all the trophies, world class players and even Sir Alex Ferguson, there has always been something that has gradually dwindled away. Each season you can almost see it disentigrate right before your very eyes. Old Trafford’s atmosphere. Where has it gone? It’s disheartening to say the least. I hear tales of when it used to be rocking. Week in, week out. Flags, scarfs and songs. It fascinates me to think of Old Trafford in that way. I have briefly experienced something like this when sat in the Stretford End but only rarely does it ever spread throughout. Even rarer still is it ever happening when it isn’t a ‘big game’. I’m tired of nostalgic tales, I want it myself and I know I’m not alone.
The ‘big game’ theory is one that I, personally, feel is one of the most damaging in terms of atmosphere. Strangely enough, it is also one that has come straight from our own support. It dawned on me before I went to the match against Stoke City in January. I was browsing the blogs and websites and came across people discussing their attendance for the match.
“Not going tonight. It’ll just be a shit home league game. I’m waiting for the big one! Liverpool, cannot wait!”
When did this attitude start to creep in? A snobbery towards the quality of opponent, as if that is a factor in your decision to go and watch your beloved club. Surely the main attraction is going to Old Trafford and watching your heroes play? I completely understand that games like Liverpool are to be looked forward to but I can’t say that I have ever not looked forward to going to any game. I still get that same feeling of giddy excitement when I walk up the steps and look out over the pitch, whether we be playing Barcelona or Burnley. I’m not quite sure how any fans wouldn’t? We need to look forward to every game, go to the ground wanting to get behind the team and come away satisfied with another three points knowing that, in your own way, you’ve contributed.
Many fans I overhear complaining always comment on the ridiculous music played over the tannoy prior to the match. I have to admit that I also despise hearing ‘Glory, Glory Man United…’ being blasted out. It contributes nothing other than to make fans bury their heads in programmes and fanzines. The club will continue to play it though as most fans like to wander to their seats about 5 minutes before kick-off. This leaves the stadium empty and devoid of any type of atmosphere. Why not come in early and build it together? I’ve never understood it. It would be inspiring for other fans and, I’m sure, the players in the dressing room. 2 o’clock onwards; flags, scarves and songs. I’d love it and, most importantly, it would work.
These things are brought on by fans at Old Trafford themselves, therefore it can be improved drastically by the fans. The major factor behind the lack atmosphere though is in the hands of the government. The introduction of all-seater stadiums was a result of The Taylor Report after the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. It was recommended in the report and passed into legislation through the Football Spectators Act. It should be noted though that it was only ‘recommended’ by the report. The disaster itself was down to poorly designed grounds and match day management, not standing. I can completely understand why people still have reservations about the re-introduction of standing, especially those who are family and friends of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, but it is clear that standing was not the reason behind the terrible tragedy. Also, if it is so unsafe then why is it completely acceptable for grounds outside of the top two divisions to still have standing terraces? It is a complete contradiction. Safe or unsafe? There is no middle ground between the two.
Those who are in favour of standing often point towards the way it is so successful in Germany. Knowing that it was an integral part of the match day experience, they realised that they needed to modernise and develop the system rather than completely remove it from football altogether. The introduction of surveillance, new escape routes, making existing escape routes larger; it all seems very simple. Schalke’s Veltins Arena has barriers that can be easily removed and replaced with seating for competitions that require stadiums to be all seated. This, again, shows development and ability to adapt. Veltins Arena has 16,000 spaces for standing fans and in the 8 years it has been open there have been no cases of injury. So, why exactly can’t standing be re-introduced in England? It cannot be down to the usual excuse of safety. The German model is exemplary and could easily be implemented here.
There is a glimmer of hope that standing may be seen in England’s top divisions once more. The Liberal Democrats included safe standing as an official policy and MP Don Foster has introduced a new safe standing bill into parliament which argues the case for clubs to be able to utilise safe standing should they wish to. The Football Spectators Act is a complete contradiction that needs to reviewed anyway, regardless of the outcome. The bill, though, will not get anywhere without government backing but with the Liberal Democrats now part of the coalition government, you have to hope that it is more than just a distinct possibility.
I have my fingers crossed that something will come of the latest attempts for the sake of Old Trafford. Change cannot come quick enough as almost everyone will agree that the atmosphere has suffered since standing was removed. Over the past few years fans have become disillusioned with the way the club is being run and also with football overall. The fans voices should always be the main reason behind any decisions made in football. The fans, quite clearly, want standing back at the ground. Old Trafford could become a cauldron and passion and excitement, something inspiring and accessible. Younger fans should gaze in sheer amazement when they first walk up the steps. We need to reconnect and fall in love with football again. Standing is needed. We need it now.