Watching last night’s match on television between Manchester United and Portsmouth, I was dumbfounded by the lengthy periods of silence I heard from the crowd of 74,895 at Old Trafford.
Sure, this is nothing new. Sir Alex Ferguson has described the atmosphere created by the Old Trafford fans as a funeral before, but come on, before the match kicked off, Manchester United were in second place in the league (only on goal difference), had two games in hand and would take a commanding lead in the Premier League if they won last night (which they did, 2-0).
Portsmouth isn’t the most exciting opponent, but Pompey put on a spirited performance especially in the first half and weren’t afraid of pushing forward to attack against a Manchester United side who were slow out on the starting blocks.
Nadir Belhadj was, without a doubt, the best player on the pitch for Portsmouth. The Algerian left winger wasn’t intimidated by United and went on some mazzy runs that almost created some good chances in and near the United box. This is exactly the type of player you need in your side. He’s entertaining. He never gives up. All he’s missing right now is that perfect delivery of the final ball — whether it’s a cross or shot.
But going back to the crowd at United, this was an embarrassing night for supporters of Manchester United in terms of atmosphere. Compare the noise between Old Trafford last night and Stoke City’s Britannia Stadium in their game last weekend against Blackburn Rovers. Stoke had a capacity crowd of 27,500 — approximately three times smaller than the crowd at Old Trafford. Yet the atmosphere in Stoke-On-Trent is incredible and really has been a twelfth man for Stoke City this season.
Turning our attention to the Champions League, I always find it interesting to see what a marked difference there is between the passion that football fans show during Champions League games compared to Premier League games. Now that EPL sides playing each other are quite common in the semi-finals of the Champions League, it’s easy to compare the match atmosphere in those games against the same match-ups in the Premier League.
For me, the match atmosphere in Champions League games between English clubs is far greater than in Premier League matches.
Of course, the Premier League season is a marathon, not a sprint — and runs for 38 weeks. In the Champions League, many of the matches are do-or-die encounters where a team must win or draw to have a hope of advancing to the next round. So because there’s more at risk regarding the possibility of getting knocked out of the round, the supporters seem to get more excited and are more up for games. Added to that is the romance of playing in Europe and the dream of seeing your club lift the Champions League trophy. After all, defeating Real Madrid or Barcelona in a European final is a lot more enticing than playing Portsmouth on a Wednesday night in Manchester.
Despite all of this, Premier League crowds should be noisier than they are. You can see how much it means for supporters of Stoke City and Hull City that their club remains in the Premier League. But for supporters of Manchester United, they’ve been spoilt and have much higher expectations. Visitors to Old Trafford are also handicapped by stricter stewards than at other Premier League crowds. Plus the high cost of tickets has led to the gentrification of football supporters in the ground and across the league.
Manchester United supporters are not the only ones to blame for the quiet atmospheres in the Premier League. Anfield had especially been quiet earlier in the season when Liverpool kept on drawing at home against weaker opposition. Plenty of other grounds have been quiet this season too during games.
Perhaps the best hope for better atmospheres next season in the Premier League comes from the Championship sides who are in the running to get promoted. These are clubs who will not take playing in the Premier League for granted. Wolves, already promoted, can be loud — despite the Molineux Stadium being too far removed from the pitch. Plus there’s always the Birmingham derby between Wolves and Aston Villa to look forward to, which will raise the decibel levels. Speaking of second city derbies, Birmingham City also have a loud supporter base at St. Andrews. Plus, Cardiff City, Sheffield United, Reading, Burnley and Swansea are all in the running to get promoted — and all have very vocal supporters.
What do you think? Why are Premier League crowds so quiet? Click the comments link below and share your opinion.