What killed English football culture?

English football culture used to be the envy of the world. Sadly, the most important part of that sentence is ‘used to be’.

These days, the atmosphere in the average English stadium is vastly surpassed by Germany, Sweden, Holland, Poland and many others across Europe. Even nations who haven’t traditionally cared about football such as Australia and America have been developing an interesting and exciting football scene. While the majority of teams in these nations have yet to capture the imagination of the public, the fans of Western Sydney Wanderers, Seattle Sounders and the Portland Timbers have certainly caught my eye.

It would have been almost unthinkable in the glory days of English football that you could have a better time at a game anywhere else in the world, never mind countries where rugby league, baseball or the American version of football are the most popular sports. So, how exactly did we allow our stadiums to become full of tourists, iPads and half and half scarves? Instead of a single factor, I believe the following ten factors are responsible for the rapid (but not irrevocable) decline of watching football in England:

End of the terraces

After the tragic death of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough, English football was bound to change. It had to. At the time, the blame for this terrible disaster was put on the shoulders of the supporters themselves. Indeed, to this day, some ignorant people still believe that the fans themselves are responsible for what happened, rather than the real reasons of police incompetence, a stadium which was unfit for purpose and a lack of interest from the authorities in the safety of football fans.

A change had to come to protect supporters in England from something like this ever happening again, but the complete demolition of the terraces was not the answer. How many people died on the terraces in Germany last season? Zero. How about in any of the last 20 seasons? Same answer.

The introduction of safe standing would have allowed football clubs to keep prices low for at least one section of the stadium, ensuring that those who wanted to stand were catered for just as well as those who wanted to entertain corporate guests. By taking them away completely, a generation were priced out of the game. The result? Soulless, silent stadiums and kids in Premier League cities who will never know anything other than watching their team on television.

Holte-end

Margaret Thatcher

Thatcher hated football fans almost as much as she hated miners, milk and poor people. In addition to her government helping to cover up the real truth about Hillsborough, she was determined to kill the game for good.

She may have said that the target was football hooligans, but the fact is that in her eyes, to be a football supporter was to be a football hooligan. The Football Spectators Act of 1989 was set to make it compulsory for supporters to own a membership card to purchase tickets for away matches, complete with details such as their home address, passport number and more. While this plan eventually failed, the Act established many more laws which helped to repress football fans for many years, including airport style body searches, refusing fans entry for being drunk and much more. If she had had her way, it wouldn’t be English football culture which died, but football itself.

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Euro ‘96

On the face of it, Euro ’96 was no different to any other tournament. England performed well enough to ensure that the country (and especially the tabloid newspapers) were whipped into a frenzy of excitement about lifting the trophy, before going out on penalties, finding a scapegoat and hating him forever.

However, the tournament had a lasting impact on football which went beyond ensuring that Gareth Southgate couldn’t go out in public for a couple of months. It made football ‘cool’ again. In the mind of the public, the game had been associated with drunken thugs rampaging across Europe throwing plastic chairs at French policemen, and wanted nothing to do with it.

This all changed with Euro 96, and suddenly it was cool to like football again. This attracted a new style of fan to the game, not to mention a wave of corporate interest. Taking a client to a game became an ideal way to secure a new contract or ensure a higher spend, with all parties involved more interested in discussing spreadsheets and accounts than actually following the action on the field.

With a new breed of supporters eager to get their hands on tickets, it made it easier for clubs to raise their prices without serious process. After all, for every lifelong working class supporter they drove away, there would be ten more people willing to take their place.

Sky Sports

There is enough wrong with Sky Sports that I could have listed them for all ten reasons, but perhaps the worst is their control of kick off times. How do you expect supporters to be at their best when they have been dragged out of bed at 3am on a Sunday morning for a lunchtime kick off in Newcastle?

A couple of years ago, before Vincent Tan came along, I attended every single Cardiff away game in a season, getting up at some extremely silly times to go and watch numerous defeats in former mining villages. The worst journey of the lot was also the closest, with Sky Sports deciding that 11:15am was a good time for the South Wales derby. Police restrictions meant that the coaches ended up setting off while it was still dark outside. Both sides still manage to inform each other that they were scum who enjoyed intimacy with their sisters and running away from fights, but it was nowhere near as intense as it could have been had the game been played at a reasonable hour. Something like 3pm on a Saturday, perhaps?

Just this week, the hideous creation that is ‘Monday Night Football’ ensured that Sunderland fans would have to take two days off work if they wanted to attend their crucial fixture at Tottenham. 300 of them did so and made a great amount of noise, but imagine how much better it would have been had they been able to bring an extra couple of thousand?

I understand that the contract held by Sky Sports means that kick off times are going to change, but I believe rules should be in place to limit how early games can be, and how far fans will be forced to travel for a midweek game.

stolethesoul

 

Theme park  stadiums

Thankfully, a number of English clubs have so far resisted the temptation to build a new stadium in a retail park several miles away from the city centre, but it is certainly a growing trend. Instead of fans being able to stagger out of a local pub half an hour before kick off and head for the turnstiles with drunken enthusiasm ensuring they genuinely believe that their slightly overweight striker on loan from Scunthorpe is better than Pele, they are forced to hang around Greggs, McDonalds and ASDA and so on for hours on end. Alternatively, they could enter the stadium early and ‘enjoy’ a pint of Carling in a plastic cup for four quid.

Just as the game is increasingly being taken away from those under the age of thirty, it is also being taken away from the community. When you cater for tourists rather than local supporters, is it any wonder the ground is silent apart from the noise of a thousand pictures being taken for Facebook?

Man City play much better football at the Etihad than they ever did at Maine Road and it’s certainly more comfortable, but ask their supporters which ground they enjoyed going to more and I bet I can guess the answer. The same goes for the new stadiums at Leicester City, Derby County, Hull City, Reading and many more. For the best example of all, just look at what moving to this kind of stadium did to Coventry City. After leaving their beloved home, they rattled around an almost empty Ricoh Arena for several years, before ending up playing in Northampton.

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The Old Trafford refund

In August of 2011, Manchester United demolished Arsenal 8 – 2 at Old Trafford in one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of the club. Despite the fact they were well beaten, some pride was restored by the travelling fans. While some of them departed early, many more stayed and continued to loudly support their team until the final whistle.

In the days following the game, it was announced that the away fans who attended the match would be offered a refund. I was unable to find statistics on how many of the supporters chose to accept the offer, but I feel this was an incredibly significant moment in the history of English football culture, changing many supporters into customers.

By offering a refund for poor performance, it turns attending a football match into something similar to shopping at Tesco or going for a meal at a restaurant. Rather than getting behind their team and trying to inspire them to victory, they’ll sit back and wait to be entertained. I have noticed through my travels around Europe that when a side in Germany, Serbia or Holland goes behind, most of the time they will just sing even louder, as if they were responsible for conceding the goal because they weren’t putting enough effort into supporting their team.

Of course, this transformation in to customers was happening long before Arsenal made this offer,  but it certainly helped to accelerate it. My question to those who believe it is acceptable to ask for a refund after a bad performance is, how would you react if the players walked over to the away end and asked for another £40 each every time they won?

Worryingly, Norwich City supporters also received a refund recently after a dismal defeat to Swansea. If this continues, you can guarantee that in the near future, a football club will attempt to charge their supporters extra every time they score a goal or win a game.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Arsenal - Old Trafford

MK Dons

The fact that this vile abomination of a franchise continues to exist is a major blow to the soul of English football. The day they finally go bust, I will fly to the UK to organise coaches  to Milton Keynes from Wimbledon to dance on their ugly concrete grave.

Please note – If you are a MK Dons fans and this offends you, good.

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Banning orders

I understand the need for banning orders in football. If you decide that it would be a good idea to throw a flare into the Family Stand or charge across the pitch to try to punch Frank Lampard in the face, you deserve everything you get when the law comes calling. However, the issue arises when supporters are being prevented from watching their beloved teams for increasingly minor issues. This season alone, banning orders have been issued to Season Ticket holders at both Sunderland and Everton for standing up during a game. Even more ridiculously, the Sunderland fan in question had been standing up to celebrate a goal his team had just scored.

Now, Sunderland have scored so few goals this season that fans should be allowed to celebrate them by riding a unicorn round the pitch naked while setting fire to an effigy of Alan Shearer, never mind simply standing up and jumping about a bit. Banning orders have also been given for the ‘offences’ of swearing, shouting and singing songs which are deemed to be offensive by the police. Not racist, homophobic or anything deserving along those lines which deserves punishment, but merely offensive. It begs the question, where does it end? Should supporters be banned for singing they support “by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen” because it is offensive to the memory of 1970’s Brazil?

Something has to be done to make the offences which can result in a football banning order more reasonable. Have a wee against a wall in a city centre on a Saturday night? All fine. Do it outside a football stadium because 30,000 other people are waiting to use the toilets? That’s a three year ban sonny. It’s no wonder that many football fans sit down and stay silent, it’s the only way to get the police and stewards to leave you alone.

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Greed

The modern football fan is undeniably greedy. If the reanimated corpse of Adolf Hitler turned up at a Championship side and offered to invest 30 million quid, you can be sure that fans would be wearing replica moustaches to the next home game and singing adoring songs in praise of their ‘saviour’.

Greed is the reason Cardiff City play in red, and the reason Hull City so nearly became known as Hull Tigers. It could also be partially blamed for the demise of Leeds United and Portsmouth. The money being spent by Peter Ridsdale and the dozens of owners of Portsmouth was clearly ridiculous, but very few people objected until it was too late and things had already begun to come crashing down.

The hype created by Sky Sports about the Premier League being the best in the world has brainwashed millions of people into believing that watching their team play in any other league is simply unbearable. For every Sheikh Mansour there are ten Vincent Tan’s, but this doesn’t stop people from demanding they become the plaything of a billionaire. Change the name, colour, identity of the club? Fine, as long as you can make sure we can play Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool every season.

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Apathy

How many times have you heard “It’s all you’ve known” or “There’s nothing you can do to change it” when speaking out against a certain aspect of football in the modern era? I’d wager quite a few, and it’s certainly a phrase which pops up in my Twitter interactions at least once a week. Normally from somebody with a username like @TopLAD95 or @BantzLegend2K14.

Instead of protesting as others around Europe have done when their football culture is threatened, we stood back and, for the most part, did nothing. In Sweden, arch rivals AIK and Djurgården agreed to say silent for the opening stages of a match between the two sides, showing the authorities what football would be like without supporters. The 12:12 campaign in Germany last season did the same, where the fans of every single club in the league pyramid stayed silent for the first 12 minutes and 12 seconds of the game in protest at proposed legislation designed to place more restrictions on football fans. The silence was observed perfectly, before the stadium descended into chaos for the rest of the game. The DFL got the message, and the changes were dropped. Nobody is suggesting you have to give up your season ticket or throw a flare at Rupert Murdoch to protest, as long as you do something.

The fact is that if nobody had ever campaigned for change and a better way of doing things we’d all still be living in caves and choosing a partner by dragging them home by their hair. This still happens on a Saturday night in Newport, but most of the world has moved on. Being against modern football does not mean that you are desperate for a return of the days of football hooliganism and the chance to lay waste to a different town centre every fortnight. Germany and many other countries have shown how it is possible for football to be safe and enjoyable at the same time.

The reason English football culture died? We let it.

man u man c

 

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Posted on April 9, 2014, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Absolutely bang on, unfortunately I too will soon be “supporting” my first true love in a soulless bowl of concrete and spending fortunes on McDonald’s for the kids instead of treating them to pie and mash in a greasy spoon, a couple of pints helping out local pubs will probably be a latte from Starbucks and I’ll be sat next to a different tourist each week instead of seeing the same bloke whinging and wining about our new striker every other Saturday, living and breathing every kick of the ball.

  2. 58 yrs old followed Swfc all my life, my 3 kids and wite all true blues, was at forest last night witnessing jobsworths, very sad. But for me without a doubt when we accepted sky money it was the start of the decline of what to many 1000s was our highlight of the week 3 pm Saturday. I’m not trapped in the past football can accommodate sky but the tail is wagging the dog. WTID FTB

  3. I also hate goal-music and musical instruments

  4. Hit the nail on the head! Unfortunately it’s been a long time in the making and us, as supporters, have either sat back and let it happen, in the hope that our team (Stockport County) will one day reap some kind of reward and make it to the big time (not me, I’ve always known we are shit), or sat and watched it happen knowing that our team will continue to grow and the gap between the big and the small clubs will forever widen, pretty much like the rich and the poor. I’ve been saying for years that football has become fashionable again for all the wrong reasons. The sooner we all wake up to what has happened to OUR game the better for the game. Get rid of Sky! Give football back to the people!

  5. Good article mate, spot on.

    But is their scope for change/light at the end of the tunnel? Safe standing is on the horizon…

    I’m a Cardiff fan, my good friend got a 3 year ban for shouting ‘f*** off you English c***’… Now Welsh or English I think anyone would agree this is pathetic. On the day it’s all for the crack and I’m sure no Englishman went home feeling racially abused that day. It is sad indeed.

  6. Isn’t it a little hypocritical for someone who talks against taking photos at matches and tourists going to matches to go to games as a tourist and take a few photos?

    • Very brave of you to leave this comment behind a fake name, unless this really is David Beckham. In which case, congratulations, I didn’t know you could read.

      When I go to games I join in with the atmosphere and take a couple of pictures when the match isn’t going on to add to my website. Hardly the same as sitting down in a half and half scarf filming the game on an iPad.

      • Where does bravery come in to it? What does my name matter? I could tell you I’m Brad Davis, it doesn’t really detract from the original comment.

        Yeah they sit nicely next to the bit where you laud pyrotechnics that are dangerous to other fans and stop/delay the game. Gee, so impressive. I wish I could see that more in the Premiership!

        Football is a more middle class, family orientated game in Britain now, face it. Why shouldn’t a fan who stands up all game be told to sit down because my son can’t see the game? Oh wait, because you want some nostalgia trip and like to pretend how great the old terraces were for football. I miss the days of not being able to see the game as a kid unless you were let to the front, and at which point you were too busy fearing being crushed when your team scored instead.

        While the over commercialism is a shame, you seem to have a vision that anybody that wants to enjoy their local team’s game with their family or kids without singing every second/throwing flares and smoke bombs around is ruining football.

    • You’ve maagned a first class post

      • To be fair one must ask if wanting some nostalgia is as bad thing? Nostalgia is a big factor in every day life if you want it or not and isn´t being a fan of something just a giant “nostalgia trip”. I would say that people become Star Wars fans not for the new films etc. that will come out in the future but for the feeling they felt when they watched as the Death Star blew up for the first time. These memories are the reason why most people end up disliking new films but still end up watching because they want to feel that exact feeling again but probably never will (at least I think this is the essence of it). Now This notion applies to every football fan as well and it´s the reason why people think back to the “glory days” of bad clubs (as an 1860 Munich supporter I know what I´m talking about) and talk about how certain players never have the charisma that old legends had. What I´m trying to say is that wanting nostalgia is just a natural thing and it shouldn’t be condemned as a “trip”.

    • To Mr. Matheson-Beckham: No one wants pyrotechnics burning all over a ground, or standing avalanches all over the ground. No one wants a Millwall-during-the-80s-style nightmare experience to return. But at least one stand should be devoted to standing, flares, drums, flags, actual atmosphere. The rest of the stands would rightly be the place for families, the upper class, and away fans. That was a good compromise that everyone understood and enjoyed for decades, but just because of a minority (violent destructive hooligans) it was reverted to the other extreme: a sterile show that most can only see on TV (and would not be much different from the real experience). In other countries, middle class families go to football stadiums with better atmosphere, and they do not mind. They do not stand, they might take some pics, but many join in the singing too and stand for goal celebrations – stuff so basic in football and crowd culture in general, yet curiously lacking in the birthplace of football nowadays…

  7. Absolutely spot-on artticel.I was on holiday in Portugal in 1992 when news of the newly-formed Premier League and the then BSkyB televsion contract broke and I mused that football as we knew it would be dead within 10 years and never again would we see Southampton, Ipswich Town and Watford as runners-up in the title race.

  8. Ben Lofthouse

    Hi Ben,

    First of all i think this is a top read and the majority of it is true. The one thing that i would like to pick up on is the refund part. Now i agree that fans shouldnt ever want to be refunded as it is a passion not a product but the only thing i would like to say, and it is a very small thing, is that i think this problem started with Wigan and not arsenal. I believe i am right in saying that Wigan gave their fans a refund after spurs beat them 9-1 at white hart lane a long time before the arsenal beating.

    Im also glad to read in an earlier blog that you enjoyed your time at a Leeds game (being a Leeds fan), i hope it wasnt as rough as that Reading game you went to.

  9. Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old one!
    It’s on a completely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Excellent choice of colors!

  10. As a Scandinavian who once watched quite eagerly English League matches on TV and at Stadiums (during 1973-85) it has been amazing thing to note how that once so fantastic atmosphere and whole culture has been destroyed during the era of SKY TV. I mostly do agree the main reasons mentioned here. But i should underline the role of media and how they exaggarated the hooliganism issue. If those about 10 matches i saw on stands during the period of 1978-80 are “average” of 1st and 2nd division matches i would say: i never felt any kinda of danger to go matches.

    However the demise of English football culture is not unique. The same happened much earlier in all American sports: baseball and grid iron. Both were captured during 1960’s and 1970’s by corporates, working class poor and young people were kicked out from stadiums and (20 years before SKY in England) the sport was given to upper middle class Americans.

    There is no doubt that World Cup 2014 will be another boring over hyped event with castrated “fans” at nice, clean but boring all seated stadiums. There will never be atmosphere like in Argentina 1978. The sport itself might be “popular” but the soul of it has killed by media, FIFA/UEFA, corporates and mentally lazy fans (=consumers).

  11. Have you ever thought about publishing an ebook or guest authoring on other websites?

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  12. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your
    blog? Its very well written; I love what youve got
    to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.
    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or
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  13. This is absolutely spot on I have to say. As a Newcastle United fan I am sick of being told that we are a financially well run club? As a football supporter I have no interest in how healthy our bank balance is. I just want to watch a team strive to be better than where they are. I’m going non-league next season to hopefully revive my love of the game because it is seriously waning. Great article on a truly sad state of affairs.

  14. You can bang on about the demise of WFC and how terrible MK Dons are all you want but picturing AFC as some kind of saviour football club is utterly wrong. Everything about WFC was wrong since the 70’s, proposed moves to Dublin, Selhurst Park, AFC abandoning WFC before WFC left them, leaving 2 whole seasons where the original WFC still co-existed alongside AFC, before the AFC essentially bullied WFC to change their name and colours to the away strip. AFC started from the 9th tier, not the bottom anyway, and then suddenly put away their Chelsea and Arsenal shirts away once they realised they’re finally a club someone gives a shit about, and they can feed on the country-wide frenzy about MK, despite the fact not having a ground since ’91, and only a handful of fans anyway – I hardly doubt any real fan was really hyped to see WFC for an away trip, and besides, the WFC weren’t very well like in London anyway, before the AFC had their boo-hoo story everywhere. I’d rather see the people of MK support a local club than Man Utd or Chelsea anyway. You don’t seem to mention Inverness, Clyde, Livingston or Arsenal Woolwich in every article. This is not a support of the MKD, the club shouldn’t have ever existed, just a little bit one-sided from you eh?

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  16. Too much blaiming touristts though they are small percentage of crowd. Clubs themselves have done it. They don’t need supporters but consumers. The truth is that EPL had higher average attendances than English league 1st division 1955-1974 and 60-80% higher than in 1980’s.

  1. Pingback: Statistics are really interesting (and other modern football lies) | Supporters Not Customers

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