As news broke out yesterday that United are planning to trial a singing section during the Champions League against Real Sociedad next month, my phone and Twitter feed were bombarded by non-Reds friends expressing their rather predictable opinions about the club’s latest attempt to generate some atmosphere at Old Trafford.
The plan is nothing new, as an attempt to relocate away fans to Tier 3 of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand was considered last season before being scrapped after the intervention of the GMP who deemed moving away fans to the top tier of the ground to0 dangerous – presumably for the poor sods sitting below them.
However, Greater Manchester Police has so far not opposed the plan of relocating Real Sociedad fans into the upper East, the area normally occupied by away fans on domestic cup games, meaning that around 1,400 seats have been made available in the away end and will be snapped up by either season ticket holders who have registered interest or, failing that, One United members who want to take part in the initiative.
As a K-Stand season ticket holder, I don’t particularly look forward to have away fans right above me, but then again I’m sure the majority of Real Sociedad fans will be well behaved and will not indulge in some Liverpool fans’ routine consisting of, in no particular order, urinating, spitting and chucking the occasional coin to the lower level – bizarrely, when we played them in the FA Cup a couple of seasons ago a brand new iPhone landed next to me – but I’m struggle to see what sort of improvement the club can gather by the initiative.
Even though in recent seasons our away support has been tarnished by a Machiavellian ticketing system, which makes the chances of getting a ticket for one of the big away games as likely as landing a 15-fold accumulator, even for those who attend away games regularly, United’s away fans are by far some of the noisiest and most passionate in the country.
As anyone who’s been to Old Trafford in recent season can testify, improving the atmosphere is a secondary problem. For something to be improved, it needs to exist first and our home games have increasingly resembled a football match unfolding in a library, where people much on their prawn sandwiches, take picture with their iPads, moan about the cold – first time at Old Trafford, mate? – and, occasionally, cast a glance towards the pitch.
Cliches, maybe, but the number of tourists has increased to mind-boggling levels in recent years as testified by the number of spare tickets available through social media networks for so called “lesser games”.
The singing section is, at least theoretically, an excellent idea. The away section’s proximity to the pitch makes it perfect from an acoustic point of view as the sound engineer United have employed – United are probably the only club to place more emphasis on hiring sound engineers rather than midfielders – will have undoubtedly told the club.
However, 1,400 fans remain a drop in the ocean in a stadium with a capacity of 76,000, particularly as the season ticket holders taking part in the initiative were likely to sing in other areas of the ground anyway, and if the rest of the fans don’t do their bit to raise the volume of a few notches, the singing section will remain nothing more than square peg in a round hole.
I suspect that one of the aim of those behind the singing section idea – many of whom, allow me to say, consider themselves more important than other fans – is that by packing together like-minded Reds they’ll kick-start a revolution and wake the majority of the ground from the torpor it has fallen into.
Like-mindedness is one of the reasons away fans are so loud, as is the fact that they spend 90 minutes standing, rather than sitting. Will United allow fans in the singing section to stand, like in the lower East and some areas of the Stretford End, or will they be forced to sit like the rest of the fans?
A sitting singing section would be as ludicrous as fans donning a green and gold scarf over their brand new replica kit but, then again, it wouldn’t be overly surprising, considering the way the club has treated the fans in recent years.
The singing section might help but, ultimately, allowing real fans to have access to tickets instead of pricing them out in favour of sponsors who consider a trip to Old Trafford a valid alternative to going to the movies and scrapping relocating the executive season ticket holders away from the Stretford End would be immensely more beneficial in the long term.
The core of the issue runs deeper and the sooner United (and the footballing authorities) recognise and address this, the sooner recognisable, appropriate and memorable atmospheres can return to a game that’s steadily losing its soul.
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