Last week I was privilaged to be in the Brøndby Stadion for the derby game versus FC Copenhagen. Whilst a couple of other regional sides may argue, this is the biggest game in Denmark. For any first time visitor to a game abroad they would not believe the sights, sounds and smells of derby day. It is planned weeks in advance, with the “shows” on display from the fans designed to go one better than their opponents. I would say that I have never seen this before in my life, but I would be wrong. In fact just last month I witnessed a slightly bigger and noisier version at the Stockholm derby between AIK and Djurgården. So if much smaller leagues and clubs can generate such atmospheres, why can’t we in England? I give you three words. Health and Safety.
We have some of the tightest controls in terms of what can and cannot go on in football stadiums in the world. We have the only league in Europe that rigorously enforces all seater stadium, yet have the worst atmosphere in our grounds. Is that a co-incidence? I certainly believe so, although there are other reasons:-
- The cost of watching Premier League football is far too high. This means that only those with the highest disposable income can attend, and this is not the demographic that really wear their hearts on their sleeves. The average fan has long been priced out of the game, replaced by someone who wants to sit and read their programme, eating their branded burger and not be disturbed by songs and people standing up. Case in point. The last time I went to Old Trafford I sat next to a woman who read a book and behind someone who knitted throughout a 3-3 draw.
- The Police associate groups of fans with trouble and therefore stamp out any activity that could be deemed to be “anti-social”. Stewards are failed and frustrated security officials who are employed by clubs to stop anyone having any kind of enjoyment from the game.
- Television, sorry, Sky would complain that no one could watch the game if flare smoke was hanging over the pitch.
Barclay’s own adverts for the Premier League show atmospheric black and white pictures of fans jumping around with a voice over saying “It’s about working hard for the weekend. It’s about having a good time”. Now what do you think? Wouldn’t you rather be watching something like the footage below? And before everyone starts banging on about health and safety, not one arrest nor was anyone injured during the Stockholm derby.
The picture is the same across Europe. Germany, with clubs like Borussia Dortmund, and the biggest terrace in Europe. Slovakia, with Spartak Trnava. Intimidating? Yes, dangerous? No. And here is the problem. In whose interest is it to change the picture here in England? The clubs get their pot of gold every two weeks, and know that every season they can squeeze more out of the same people using fear tactics – “Can you afford to miss the Carling Cup game with Walsall?”, talking about huge waiting lists for Season Tickets and introducing membership schemes as the only way to buy tickets for games. The stadiums with their rows of shiny seats are easily to control with little Hitlers dressed in day glow jackets, and the TV companies know that there is no chance that their broadcasts can be interrupted. I simply cannot see a compelling event that will lead to the revolution. I think that football in Europe evolved from the dark days of hooliganism (I am not for one minute suggesting that has gone away by the way) into more of peaceful fan culture, and been allowed to develop, whilst in England we have cotton wrapped everything and will never move out of this state.
So here is my final piece of evidence to show what we are missing. An OFFICIAL video made by Allsvenskan champions Malmö FF after their game last season which essentially decided the title against Helsingborgs IF. Just watch the footage and tell me that you do not get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. Can you imagine being one of those players knowing the backing and support they had from their fans. But then again players in continental Europe have a different relationship with the fans based on respect and honour. Fat chance of players over here ever respecting football fans.