Singing Section Strike A Bum Note

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By Matthew Jones

HAVING ‘Your support is f******g s**t’ sung at you by boisterous away fans, on top of the already abject spectacles Manchester United fans have had to witness at Old Trafford this season, is contributing to the toughest period I’ve experienced as a Red.

While supporters cannot of course do too much about the on field shambles, we have at least been trying our best to affect issues off the pitch.

One of those chief issues is the declining atmosphere inside our beloved stadium.

Concerns and complaints from beleaguered fans and supporters’ groups have led to protests, and to be fair to the club, the protests have been heard and resulted in action by it – leading to trials of a dedicated singing section.

I was in the 1,400 strong portion of the stadium cordoned off for fans who sang loudly, proudly and constantly for two hours during December’s home Champions League group stage game against Read Sociedad, and I was also in the old K and J stand segments where the singing section was trialled for last weekend’s league game against Fulham too.

The Sociedad trial was largely deemed a roaring success so anticipation was high that the Fulham trial would follow suit. What I didn’t expect was for the experiment to be damper than the weather.

I went to Old Trafford in buoyant mood, anticipating another great atmosphere to at least help lift the mood surrounding the club in this transitional season, and the players too – but I was left disappointed on two counts.

The result was the latest instalment of a demoralising season cloaked in disappointment, frustration and anger. However, for someone who is desperate for an improvement in the atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams, a recapturing of the good old days, the second singing section trial was equally demoralising.

It was clearly evident that the Fulham trial wasn’t as good as the first against Sociedad, despite there being double the amount of people in it. 1,400 fans in the December experiment was almost doubled, to 2,600, yet people who I travelled up with to the game, sitting in various other areas of the ground, said they didn’t once hear songs or chants emanating from the section.

The relocation of the section to the lower North West quadrant, according to a letter handed to fans arriving at the ground by stewards, promised an even better atmosphere than Sociedad, with better acoustics predicted to transport the noise around the rest of Old Trafford.

The truth is though, that despite a fairly constant stream of songs being aired throughout the 90 minutes, fans in the section were incoherent and out of sync with each other. I was situated roughly in the middle and fans toward the back were regularly singing a different song to groups closer to the pitch.

Many fans weren’t even singing at all, despite presumably applying for a ticket in the singing section to do precisely that.

Perhaps, I thought initially, the European game was such a success because of the noisy participation of the passionate away fans. European nights at Old Trafford are usually very noisy affairs, partly down to the fact away fans are granted a greater portion of seats than visiting domestic teams are allowed in the Premier League, and also because European fans, particularly from countries such as Spain, Turkey, Italy and Germany, are renowned for their travelling support and the atmospheres inside their own stadiums.

Also, the away and home fans at Sociedad were in close proximity, so we bounced off each other’s vibes.

Arguably, a fixture between a woefully out of sorts United against a relegation threatened team whose lack of away support is already famed for being quiet, was a poor choice for a second trial.

For the Fulham trial, lots of season ticket holders who sit in the old J and K stands were forcibly re-designated to different areas of the ground – many of who were angered by this fact – which could be another explanation for the trial failing this time around.

Allegedly, lots of people who were supposedly removed from their seats for the second trial, just applied for a ticket in the singing section when the club announced that it was going to trial it again, and make it bigger, resulting in a lot of normal residents therefore staying put.

Perhaps in protest or perhaps out of habit, they may not have got involved on Sunday.

With a largely successful first trial and a largely unsuccessful second trial, one thing for certain is that the singing section debate divides United fans.

In the days since the Fulham game, if you read past the initial anger and disappointment of the result, a lot of discussion has centred around the pros and cons of the singing section.

United fans Ryan Parry and Gavin Parry, who I both follow on Twitter, have criticised the trial in general, as well as the club’s decision to relocate fans from the J and K stands.

Ryan (‏@RyanParry_1992) has been to every home game this season and said ‘two of the worst atmospheres this season have been when there’s (been) a singing section because the rest of the ground can’t/won’t join in’, adding ‘the atmosphere within the section for Sociedad sounded good but it was dead in (the) rest of the ground’.

Gavin (‏@gavunited63) said to me ‘what about all us displaced reds, I spoke to loads on Sunday and there was real anger amongst everyone, the singing section didn’t work and all it has done is split the support, lots of fans have said they will not renew (their season tickets) if they are displaced and scattered around the ground’.

Many of those displaced Reds have been in that area of the stadium for 20 years or more, and while many fans and neutrals will name the Stretford End as being the most vocal area of Old Trafford, where the more hardcore element sit, Gavin added ‘it’s a vocal section anyway where we sit, the ground is rocking, yes there are some s**t games of course, that’s human nature but the support is spontaneous, football fans will react to situations, we have all been there (at games) when it’s incredible’.

The club at least seem keen to press ahead with singing section trials, because there are large numbers of fans and groups who desperately want to improve the atmosphere inside the ground.

The main issue is obviously placement, with care needed to be taken in relation to the permanent displacement of fans, especially season ticket holders, while the other main issue is where would away fans be relocated, if the section would take over the North East corner of the ground where away fans currently reside.

That segment of the stadium appears to most to be the best option, because when an away team with a vocal following visits, they can be heard from everywhere in the ground. Of course, that poses more questions, because it creates the bigger problem of where to re-disperse away fans.

The club and various police forces harbour serious health and safety concerns were United to relocate away fans to either the top tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand or the second tier of the East stand, the two areas most often identified as a likely destination for visiting teams’ fans.

I suggested to Gavin that perhaps the club could create a singing section in the already vocal Stretford End. The middle or lower tier would be the best areas to explore as the upper tier has historically been a noisy place to sit anyway. A successful singing section here would hopefully make the Stretford End a vociferous force again, but there would still, perhaps, be fears, as Ryan mentioned, that the rest of the ground would be muted while the Stretty roars.

Gavin said ‘(the) lower stretty would be better but they won’t move (the) family stand, I don’t think they will because the kids get in early, spend money, watch players warm up (and it’s) next to tunnel (for pictures)’.

Wherever you turn, it seems, a permanent singing section is coming up against a wall of sound, but I hope the club persists with exploring its options.

Obviously performances this season are not helping the decline in atmosphere, but the crowd needs to do its bit too.

The trials are something the club definitely needs more of, because despite the critics, something needs to be done regarding the atmosphere at our famous old ground.

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8 Responses to “Singing Section Strike A Bum Note”

  1. How can something which 100% improves the atmosphere be a bad thing. Although not perfect on Sunday it was still a successthing. Although not perfect on Sunday it was still a success

  2. Not moving the family section because of the photo opportunities of the tunnel is not a good enough reason. Away fans could easily be placed there with the singing section in the current away corner. For European and cup games the away section can be east stand upper. That would hopefully bring the other half of the ground into a bit of atmosphere and have vocal support from both ends. South stand is a lost cause anyway. To be honest I’m hoping that we join the growing list of teams wanting to bring I standing sections again. Or even stick the away fans in one of the upper quadrants?

  3. I was in it too on Sunday. I was in the last row(just in front of the prawn sandwich brigade) and it wasn’t as good as I expected. Me and 3 others from our supporters club sang our hearts out the whole game. There were maybe a dozen ‘supporters’ around us who didn’t even clap or cheer. They just stood there with their hands in their pockets or constantly checking their mobile phones. My friend Mark Lee(passionate fan) pointed out to a few of these people that it was the singing section and asked why they weren’t joining in. I even heard one guy in front of us complain at half time that everyone was standing(the same guy left 6/7 minutes early). That’s another thing that grinds my gears, people who complain about ticket price etc and they leave early. Singing section or no singing section, I for one will always sing loud and proud. Every real United fan should do the same. If you don’t want to sing, cheer, clap or get fed up standing, go watch it at home. For those who were there on Sunday and did actually sing, well done. We’ll never die. GGMU.

  4. I was sat practically above the singing section in the upper East stand and it sounded pretty good from up there. It definitely improved the atmosphere in the area I was sat in

  5. I was sat in the East stand and I thought the singing section sounded good. I was too busy watching it though when the First Fulham goal went in.

    What I was surprised about was that the fans around the section were not lifted by it? I certainly was.

    De Gea also appreciated his chant :)

  6. I’ve long been an advocate for at least exploring the possibility of safe standing. Bristol City are introducing it this weekend and there’s a story in the Daily Mail today about Ed Woodward supposedly supporting it, so that bodes well.

    It works in Germany very effectively

  7. Kevin, don’t even get me started on the fans who leave early. At the Spurs game, one guy who sits near me in the Stretford End got up and left after Spurs scored their second goal. I saw him get up and leave. Minutes later, when Welbeck pulled it back, he returned to his seat, as if pretending he’d been to the toilet. I wanted to punch him straight in the face

  8. I was at both trials and it was clear to me that the mistake for the 2nd was allowing fans to keep their seats in the area, as i had the same argument with a few people who refuessed to sing as they sit there week in week out and in some annoying protest against the trial was for them to opt to keep there seat for the game and not sing as they didnt want the trial there as i was told by a number of prawn sandwich lovers. Also there are too many fans who like to be in a noisy atmosphere but not add to it

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