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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