It`s amazing what partisan football supporters will fight over in an attempt to establish some form of tribal superiority which doesn`t depend on what happens on the pitch. Several times this summer I have found arguments on different blogs that cover every conceivable point of contention, no matter how trite, from who has the best matchday program to whose is the most attractive kit. Routinely now supporters will argue about all manner of things; the number of supporters – both local and overseas, wage bills, transfer fees, average player ages, debts, owners as well as the usual trophy count, most attractive style and performance over whatever convenient time frame suits the argument.
One of the more pointless debates is that of stadium atmosphere. What constitutes atmosphere? The continuity of noise, it`s volume or the diversity and wit of chants? The atmosphere can vary from game to game depending on the opposition and the way the game plays out. A defensive nil each draw isn`t going to create the same response from the crowd as a second half come back from 3 goals down to win 5 – 3. The conditions for heightened atmosphere changes constantly. It`s a little like sticking a flag in a sea. Winds, currents and tides will move it straight after you plant it. Challenging for the title or a nail biting struggle to avoid relegation are likely to excite the crowds more than a benign challenge for a Uefa club place.
At times there is a sense of people trying too hard out of a misguided belief that atmosphere is created to order. The guy behind me at the Real game was making a lot of noise at the wrong time, perhaps believing that he was leading by example. A noble aim but it is the spontaneity of response to events on the pitch when everyone reacts in unison that creates the buzz. A lone voice at the wrong point is more of an irritant.
It is often claimed that the atmosphere at stadiums is less than in the past but a tendency to mythologise the past is as evident amongst football supporters as any other group. A truly ancient, but still active, gooner , who has attended games since the 30`s tells me that singing and chanting really only emerged in the 60`s. Prior to that rattles, whistles, groans, cheers and claps, as he recalled were the chosen method of expression. While not quite as long, I have been going to football games for many years. It is easy to look back and imagine that every game was a riot of excitement but I suspect the truth is if it were possible to go back in time, dull games would have just as unenthusiastic a response as they do now. The difference is that few felt compelled in the past to agonise about it or prove support by acting independently of what took place on the pitch.
Changes in the way we watch games and the ‘matchday experience` all may impact on the noise we make. It seems easier to sing standing up hence you don`t see too many sedentary choirs I guess. The removal of terraces has affected numbers at some grounds as has the need to prebook a seat. In the past crowds would build up early as supporters got to the ground early enough to claim their favourite spot on the terraces. That seemed to build up atmosphere slowly as the stadium gradually filled anticipating kick off. Now the stadium buzz is confined to the concourses within the stadium as supporters park themselves in front of TV monitors or at the drink and food bars. Many seats only being occupied just as the match kicks off.
There have been a few attempts to measure noise levels in grounds to try to establish which club has superiority. For the reasons I have given nothing of any scientific validity has ever been established because noise varies from game to game. The telephone company 118 118 carried out a survey of one game at each premier league ground at the beginning of last season. The conclusion was that Sunderland were the noisiest at 129 decibels and Fulham the quietest at 115 which may not be surprising given the size of the gates but even so Sunderland were just 12% noisier. The average was 122 decibels which is exactly where Arsenal registered. The library is yet another football myth. It doesn`t prove too much because you could carry out the same exercise at another time and get a different result but it does show that by and large noise levels are pretty similar around the premier league.
But noise isn`t atmosphere. You can`t really measure that other than as an individual. The atmosphere to an away supporter at Millwall back in the ’80s or amongst the wild-eyed fraternity in a NLD at White Hart Lane could seem much less pleasant and acceptable than it does to those ‘quiet` supporters at Craven Cottage. Just as the atmosphere at a home ground isn`t improved with a noisy fan behind you continuously bellowing ‘shoooooooooooot` or booing the current season`s whipping boy. Atmosphere is what you prefer as an individual, which makes the argument between supporters superfluous.
Those competing to come up with the best chant whether for its mellifluous resonance or the sharpness of its wit do positively effect everyone`s enjoyment. There is no doubt that a successful chant adds to the atmosphere at grounds and the entertainment of crowds. It is the invention of people acting spontaneously but in unison that creates atmosphere I feel. Chants are good for atmosphere. Even then the most memorable are the spontaneous ones even if they are often cruel but you have to take your chants when it comes. Andy Goram, former Rangers keeper, having been diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, being greeted with “There`s only two Andy Gorams” would have added entertainment value to a partisan appreciation of atmosphere.
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