Violence on the Terrace!

I’ve watched live football for many years. My father would take me to see Southampton reserves when I was a youngster. I even had my own box to stand on. As the years have passed I have graduated to watching senior teams & those of you who follow my blog will know I’m married to a Gillingham supporter. Yesterday, we went to watch the team play at Hereford & I was horrified & ashamed (and it had nothing to do with the football!)

Hereford is an old ground with old terracing. The area usually occupied by away fans has been condemned so we were put down the side. There was a choice of seating or standing & being married to an old stalwart & having equally minded friends with us, we opted to stand. For those of you who do not go to matches, the terrace has been the revered icon for football fans. It is where many of them have grown up, singing, shouting & supporting their team. It was often felt that it was on the terraces that the atmosphere of the game was created.

To put things a little more in context, in April 1989, there was a disaster at Hillsborough during which 96 Liverpool fans were killed due to over crowding.  The Taylor Report that followed the disaster  recommended that all top division stadiums should phase out terraces & become all seater. Within 3 years of being promoted to the Championship (second level of the league) clubs must ensure full seater stadia. Obviously, for those teams in the lower divisions, the cost of such renovations was impossible. Many smaller clubs have sort to move & rebuild grounds rather than face the cost of upgrading old & quickly deteriorating grounds. (Interesting article on Football stadia from University of Leicester). Some however, have not been able to do anything so large areas of grounds are condemned.

So… back to Hereford & the terraces. As I mentioned, my supporter experience goes back a long way so standing on the terrace is not a problem. In fact, it is quite enjoyable to have that freedom to move around. Sadly though, the passage of time has brought a degeneration of behavior & language. Even within the seated areas language has become more ‘colourful’. The use of the ‘F’ word, once restricted to real anger is now part of most sentences. This is a feature of society in general I feel. Notwithstanding this change in society’s language, the barrage of abusive, vile vocabulary yesterday was a disgrace. We know of racial abuse & football grounds have by & large managed to stamp that out. What type of abuse do you call it when the ‘C’ word is used time & again often directed at specific players? The atmosphere was aggressive & intimidating. Where once I could glance towards the speaker who would then moderate his language, there was no intention of changing the glossary in use. After all why should they change for a woman when they had youngsters of 10 & 11 with them?!

The whole experience made me consider how this can be changed. Lower league clubs are not able to afford a police presence & have volunteers for their stewards. Which of those would feel safe approaching someone yelling in this violent way? The Football League has made much of its ‘Respect’ campaign but apart from signs around the grounds &, in some clubs, a tanoyed message before the game reminding supporters of the need to respect each other & the players, there is little evidence of a will to enforce the sentiments. The Premiership & Championship clubs have better surveillance so are able to keep a much tighter reign on over-eager fans.

Yesterday, many of those creating this atmosphere spent more time chanting than watching the game. I know if I were to question them about it (heaven help me!) their response would be that I didn’t have to stand there. My response to you Dear Reader is – why should I move? What can we do about the debasement of our language? For the football fans among you, is it the nature of the terraces? What should the clubs do to make sure that the present experience of ‘fanship’ is a pleasant one & that the next generation is not turned into yobos!

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20 comments

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  • Wow. Interesting read! Over here in Australia, we have the ‘hil” at rugby league matches- it sounds like kind of the same thing? You shouldn’t have to move. People should have more respect. It’s an issue of politeness and respect for others- you can say what you like, but should you?

  • It kind of makes it difficult to ever bring your child to a football game with all that chanting.

  • My partner is a die-hard football fan, and pretty hardened to the goings on, but even he is horrified by some of the language and behaviour seen and heard at some games. I’m not sure how keen I’d been to have him take our little girl along, until she’s much, much older. I’ve been to one game with him (not my cup of tea, but he had a spare ticket) and I found the atmosphere quite menacing at times. Shame, as it would be a lovely day out for him and our daughter otherwise. She’s only two now, but already showing quite a passion for football (God help me!!!!!) Maybe I’m being a bit simplistic and idealistic, but to me it seems to be to go against the whole ‘honour’ of the game?? Maybe I just don’t understand the extent of the passion that supporters feel.

  • Craig

    See and experience exactly what you do, however have a slightly different slant on it. Generally the pressures oif life are increasing and the media/society in general comnstantly feeds our material world with what we need to be happy(in their view).
    Saturday afternoon is the only real opportunity that many have to vent their frustration/venom/anger call it what you want.
    Yes; its colourful and not pretty but at least it contained and not actualluy physically hurting anyone. Id mush rather a father swears his heart out for 90 mins than beats up on his wife and kid at home..! This is not an excuse for constant foul language and aggressive behaviour, its just my observations.

    • Ummm! If I thought it helped someone being hit I’d possibly understand but I haven’t much faith that those men would be like that in most areas of their lives.

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  • The summer Max was born was when Turkey made it into quarter finale of the world cup (I think?). People were out in the streets, cheering. I feared for our lives on several occasions. People were driving super fast with children sitting on the sun roof . People were playing with flame throwers on the pavement. And they didn’t see us, or our baby. They were as if hypnotised. We thought we’d end up squashed by the crowd. Nothing ever reminded so much of the scene in 1984 where people are screaming at the ‘enemy of the state’ for quarter of an hour. Mass hysteria.

  • Tim

    Good post and the same experience that I have had too. My worst experiences have been as an away supporter (Aston Villa v Liverpool and Sheffield Utd v Liverpool) where there are more of the ‘die hard’ type supporters (concentrated) who just want to hurl abuse (and never want to sit down!).

    My brother supports a local team, Altrincham. He prefers to stand on the terrace behind the goal, where no doubt there is the same sort of behaviour as described. Whenever I go to watch them, I sit in the family stand where the atmosphere is very friendly. Does every club have a family stand and if so, is this area better policed?

    • I think most clubs have a family section now. It is such a shame when these louts can spoil it for everyone. Thanks so much for stopping by & joining the discussion!

  • Like you, I’ve been to grounds with terraces many many times. Unfortunately, there is a section of our supporters (I can’t remember their name, and I wouldn’t give them the oxygen of publicity) who are very very very fascist. I used to help on an unofficial PNE site back when the club didn’t even consider having an official site and our guestbook would regularly be overrun with racist comments along the lines of “white shirts for white players”. It was horrific.

    The self same supporters also go to matches – Colchester in particular sticks in my mind. However, that is quite a shallow terrace and I saw certain supporters approached by stewards and asked to shut up. When they didn’t, they were ejected with cheers from the proper fans.

    It also sticks in my throat that a section of PNE fans still call themselves the “Gentry” – I think the craze of wearing bowler hats etc has passed – but it’s a euphemism for hooligans.

    Preston’s ground has been all seater for sometime. The last terraces were shut some years ago and yes, there is something to be missed but at the same time, it’s improved the behaviour. It doesn’t stop foul language – my husband (Blackpool supporter) sat behind a guy for a couple of seasons whose language was appalling and became known as “bent pig” because he inevitably called the ref that in the course of every game!! However, on the whole, people seem more prepared to tone their language down when sat down. No idea why.

    Yes, terraces can be good fun – but I know there is no way I would take my kids onto one.

  • Could you please e-mail me re your interesting article.

    Thanks.

  • First, being at Hillsborough on the day of the disaster, I must clarify that the problem there wasn’t born out of any hooliganism on the day although the fences put up to combat hooligans were a major contributing factor. I just wanted to make that clear.

    With regard to the language at football matches nowadays, I still go to lower league (well non league in the case of Southport FC) games and feel that it is primarily a reflection on what society permits now.

    When I first went to football matches in the 1970’s I was the child that was being protected, but i felt that the vast majority of the crowd (usually 50,000+) were willing to protect me. Now I feel that it’s more a case of protecting your nearest and not the wider community.

    Football used to be a very community focussed thing. You all knew you were there to support your team. Now it is more tribal. Support for your tem is secondary to antagonising the opposition.

    Last year was a good case in point. Chelsea came to Liverpool near the end of the season and a win for the Londoners (sic) would surely rest the Premiership title from Manchester United. I was ashamed of the number of Liverpool fans that were prepared to let Chelsea beat them to stop Manchester United taking the crown. I wasn’t one of those supporters. my team winning is more important than another team losing, but neither is more important than life or death (or being civil to each other). Sorry Bill.

    • Thank you for such a full comment Ian. I was shocked at just how bad it was yesterday. Obviously, being in the leagues we are, things are often a bit hairy but I was really sad about it & didn’t feel protected at all (well apart from my small groupof 3 others!)

      I did wonder about writing to someone about it but who would listen? I am concerned about the youngstera who are there like sponges taking it all in!

      • It’s a dangerous, but almost unstoppable, spiral. Someday, those 10 year olds will be the dads who are condoning the behaviour, and it always gets worse through the generations.

  • In agreement with all that is written, but, alas,no one seems to give a damn. The world is changing for the worse I’m afraid, little or no respect anymore!

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