In the space of a few hours last week I read of Barcelona footballers saying what a cauldron Stamford Bridge can be for big games and I listened to Chelsea manager Jose Moruinho saying the ground was silent for the first half hour of the West London derby against QPR.
A lack of atmosphere in football grounds is nothing new. In times past I’ve watched games at Anfield, Old Trafford and Highbury at which you could have heard a pin drop. I have found there to be noise before the kick off, but things often go quiet during the game. When you watch Liverpool at home you cannot help but find the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention when the Kop sings ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone.’ But, thereafter, the atmosphere can often be akin to that you’d find in a library.
I recall sitting at Old Trafford in the late 1980’s when Man Utd were leading a game by four goals before the half hour mark. You would have thought the place would be bouncing. It was not. United fans around me began predicting who would win the Eurovision Song Contest taking place later that night.
In his first stint at Chelsea, when success was eventually taken for granted by the supporters and they called phone-in shows to complain Jose’s tactics were boring; Stamford Bridge could be devoid of noise for league matches. Now Jose Mourinho says that problem has returned and he has called upon the supporters to make more noise. I feel sure they will respond accordingly.
But silence in the stalls is not a Chelsea problem. It is a much wider issue than that.
Why so? Because the terraces are no longer home to the working class man. At least not in the numbers attending games when I was a lad. The man on the ‘Clapham Omnibus’ has been driven away from the sport by rising prices and games kicking off on days and at times dictated by TV executives.
Football is a game occupied by mercenary millionaires and leeches called agents. And fewer working men wish to give their hard earned to those people.
Also because, whatever the TV companies may try and lull you into thinking, the football on offer is often deadly dull. You pay a small fortune for 90 minutes of entertainment and, more often than not, you come away realising you haven’t been entertained. You have been ripped off.
And finally, one more reason. The game at the highest level is now watched by people who do not feel the game like you and I do or did. Media types. Presenters of daytime BBC radio programmes who go into work and say to their colleagues: “I hear this football thing is quite the thing to follow… who should I support?”
Lawyers, accountants, architects and people who have job titles that make no sense whatsoever. They have a degree in some ology or other but what they specialise in is talking bollocks. You’ll hear them do so in the stand. That’s who is following football these days.
If they cannot be bothered to go one week, or they have tickets for the opera, they will simply leave their expensive season ticket at home. Thousands do that, hence why you get lots of empty seats at Premiership grounds and, of course, at Wembley Stadium. Football is their latest fancy. Going to a game gives them street cred at the office. They like to feel they have rubbed shoulders with the common man. They will not chant. That’s what ‘ruffians’ do.
They are the people who are most silent during a game. That’s because they are there to do some business. They use the football ground in place of the boardroom. Or you’ll find them in a bar or private box quaffing champagne and eating hors d’oeuvres, not hot dogs. They’re not there to watch the game, let alone become passionately involved in it. They’re too busy chatting to clients they are trying to impress.
The game has lost too many middle aged working men. Those who were once the lifeblood of the game. Those whose regular attendance kept the heart of football beating when the football hooliganism of the seventies threatened to kill the game off as a spectator sport. People like me who, during the 1960’s, grew up watching Best, Law, Charlton, Bell, Summerbee, Lee, Greaves, Moore, Osgood, Cooke etc etc.
I have no idea how anyone I went to school with affords to go to a Premier League game today. And if they take their children then they must have gone on to earn even more than I did in television.
We’ve done away with the older grounds. The places where you could stamp your feet, chant and have the noise reverberate around you. Not now. Too many modern grounds are built of steel and concrete. They are soulless. Good luck to West Ham fans trying to create an atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.
Nowadays you have too many plastic people watching football in a setting that resembles an out of town supermarket.We’re in an era when people, usually from overseas, attend games wearing half and half shirts or scarves. What the hell is that all about? You support one team or the other, not both!
You have people with what I am told are called selfie sticks. I thought only the Japanese used them on holidays.
Watch these people on TV. You’ll see folk trying to take selfies so that the player taking a corner or throw-in appears in the same photo as them. Look at the shots of Cristiano Ronaldo celebrating his goal at Anfield. You’ll see some Liverpool fans trying to take a picture of themselves with Ronaldo in the back of shot. I ask you!Premier League football has become a tourist attraction. No longer do they want a photo of pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They want to go home saying they’ve attended a game at Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, Old Trafford or the Etihad Stadium. And they need to prove that by taking photos of themselves with the game going on in the background.
For the tourists and the toffs going to a football match is not about singing your heart out. It’s about ticking something off your bucket list.
I am far from alone in believing that there is an irretrievable disconnect between those who run clubs and play for them, and those like me, now in their mid fifties. I’m just glad I can remember being at matches where the atmosphere was so great you couldn’t hear yourself think. The noise in your ears was still there long after you had gone home for your tea.
Jose Mourinho is not daft. He wants Stamford Bridge to be a cauldron once again and he knows that if he accuses his own fans of being mute they will react by turning up the volume when it matters most. As the Barça players confirmed, it can be an intimidating venue when the place is rocking.
And Chelsea fans should be shouting. He’s given them plenty to shout about. I feel sure the lifelong Blues fans are the most vocal.
After all, if you can´t sing when you’re winning, when can you?