The Fan and the Footballing Spectacle

Stoppage time: where you’ll find frank assessments and comments of footballing states-of-affairs and philosophies. Find yourself tired of listening to football pundits saying the same thing over and over again? We take a different stance, talk about issues that may just be beneath the surface.

Yeah, saying exactly the same things, but in different words.

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The Fan and the Footballing Spectacle

Andre Villas-Boas made it a point recently to comment on White Hart Lane support, or lack thereof. “We didn’t have the support we should have done. There was much anxiety from the stands, the players had to do it alone.” In keeping with the Portuguese’s suave demeanor, the rant was measured and calculated, and he subsequently made quite of show of complimenting subsequent showings. But you could well imagine him standing in the centre circle, arms outstretched. “Are you not entertained?”


The trouble is, an increasing number of Spurs fan would shake their head in disapproval. So many of their games in the Premier League have followed the same script: sustained possession and pressure without the incisiveness, toiling towards a soft penalty. Admittedly the quality of the squad is on the verge of clicking into purrable gear, but for now it is all rather soporific. AVB demands support to lift the team on those meandering occasions, and as Michael Owen noted on Match of the Day, support from a boisterous terrace has a surprising effect on the players on the field. But shouldn’t those paying premium price for tickets be allowed to express their disgruntlement?

There has been well documented change in footballing crowd culture in Britain through measures like all-seater stadia, and the erosion of hooliganism from society. I cannot claim to have experienced this first-hand, but as an extension it seems there is more nuanced collective emotion experienced at a football game, than the binary ecstasy-despair spectrum.

Arsenal may have been a pioneer in this trend, and the ‘Highbury Library’ term formed part of an Arsenal fan’s identity. One of the Maths professors at Oxford was willing to testify: “Arsenal fans didn’t mind it because they thought they were intellectual and sophisticated. I was there – it was because all of them up in the North Bank were busy smoking pot!”

But over the few years, few grounds have experienced the collective groan, and anxious murmur, more than the Emirates. Amy Lawrence notes: “Among the usual football crowd noises that can be heard at Arsenal this season, a new one has cropped up. It is the sound of 60,000 people collectively grimacing, mumbling fearfully and slipping into a mild panic – and it happens whenever Olivier Giroud tumbles to the ground in pain.”

Many have lamented the lack of atmosphere at grounds. They point to places like St James Park as terrific places to experience, and remember the days of standing terraces fondly. But quietness is not a sufficient condition for lack of energy. Places can be flat and quiet; but many places emit incredible energy (mostly nervous energy) that may not be loud, but still carries through even to the television. Football is a gripping sport precisely because it takes you through the whole roller coaster of experiences, and it adds to the spectacle to experience that through the collective intake and releases of breath of thousands of people.

When have you seen a Mexican wave – that supposed most vibrant of events – at a compelling game, when the crowd is completely involved? Contrast that with the soundbite from THAT Arsenal goal against Norwich. The second collective gasp is when the goal is played on the big screen.

Arsenal need not wait too long though to experience the wonder of stadiums where the sound levels reach dangerous levels. The Dortmund fans at the Emirates comfortable drowned out any home support. The energy they emitted was incredible, and 60,000 of those fans in one place must surely be intimidating to visit and play at. Whether or not Wenger’s players can stand up and be counted, it will be a real spectacle.

Then Arsenal travel to Napoli.

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