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!
Images coutesy of Google