Manchester United is one step away from permanently moving away supporters in their Old Trafford stadium. On April 15, United will move the visiting Aston Villa supporters from their regular position in the ground, in the SE quadrant, to the third tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand.
For TV viewers, who are accustomed to the view of the main camera when games are played at Old Trafford, this will mean that instead of the away fans appearing in the right corner of the ground, they will face the main TV, but will be nestled in the lofty section of the third tier, under the roof.
If the trial goes successfully, Manchester United will make this a permanent decision beginning with the start of the 2012-13 season.
The implications of this move are numerous. Currently, the away supporters are often easily visible within view of the cameras, as well as often being significantly louder than the home fans. By moving the away section of the ground to the nosebleed section, away fans will be out of sight and out of mind, in addition to being very difficult to hear on television.
Manchester United defends the potential decision by reporting that home fans have overwhelmingly supported the decision. Plus, according to the club website, “The last few seasons have seen a noticeable decline in the number of away fans coming to Old Trafford and because of the way the segregation works in the SE corner of the stadium, this can often mean hundreds of seats are left empty for security reasons because they cannot be made available to United fans who want to come to the game. Many more United fans are being denied the chance to watch their team because of the poor uptake in away allocations.”
The statement on the website adds that “The club sees the proposed move as being in the best interests of matchgoing Manchester United supporters as a whole and has put a lot of effort and thought into the solution.”
Nowhere in the club’s statement do they once mention any thoughts or concerns about the away supporters. I, for one, will miss seeing the away supporters being in a corner of the ground where they definitely add a lot of atmosphere to a, sometimes, very quiet Old Trafford ground on matchdays. By moving the away supporters into the far flung reaches of the ground, Old Trafford will be just like the only other ground in the Premier League where away fans are practically invisible — Newcastle’s St. James’s Park.
Revenue is obviously a key motivator for Manchester United to consider moving the away fans, as well as reduced stewarding and policing costs. But I wonder how much of a factor in this decision is Man United fans wanting to silence the away section.
Ultimately it’s a bad move for neutral fans, away fans and TV viewers. Moving the away supporters to a section of the ground where it’ll be very difficult to hear the supporters will only serve to decrease the atmosphere at Old Trafford. But selfishly, for Manchester United, it would mean more revenue to pay down the debt.