Tottenham’s manager Andre Villas-Boas took the brave step of criticizing his club’s own supporters after their 1-0 win over Hull City. Villas-Boas was unhappy with the atmosphere created for his players at White Hart Lane and was quoted post-match saying that his side felt like the away team at times (from Sky Sports):
“I compliment the boys for what they did – great work rate. Not only that but we played away from home. We didn’t have the support that we should have had in a game that we needed a win. There was much anxiety present in the fans which transmitted to the players, so this victory is down to the players. We did it with no help today.”
Whilst Villas-Boas singled out his own supporters for creating a paltry, inhospitable atmosphere, this is a problem that is not exclusive to Spurs and White Hart Lane. The truth is that the typical atmosphere at Premier League games is dwindling at pretty much every ground across the country.
Sure, there are still occasions that churn out vociferous, fervent displays of fandom. We we were witness to that in earnest at the Stadium of Light and Stamford Bridge on the same day White Hart Lane was riddled with angst and frustration. The passion in English football is incomparable when there is dramatic late goals like those scored by Fernando Torres and Fabio Borini. And it borders on delirium when they come against local or positional rivals, just as the aforementioned goals did this weekend.
But aside from those rare instances of theatre, the majority of stadiums seem to have suffered in terms of atmosphere. In a standard, run of the mill home game, the contribution from home supporters in England can be alarmingly poor. In the main, English crowds will wait to be sparked into life by the players. A tough tackle or a stinging shot can be the catalyst for a jump in noise, but not really vice-versa.
It’s not how it’s always been, but lately, supporters seem more muted and more frustrated than ever during games. And when you think about it, it’s obvious why.
First and foremost, the times and dates of games are becoming almost laughably inconvenient. Take Tottenham; the club’s participation in the Europa League means that every time they play in midweek in Europe, their next league game will be on a Sunday.
Already, this creates issues for the supporters. Not only is Sunday typically a day to relax with family, but public transport often runs on a limited service. Plus the prospect of a few pints is often swerved with Monday morning and work commitments looming. The game can seem like a hindrance at times and as you might expect, these circumstances don’t make for a jovial and patient set of supporters.
Talksport’s Adrian Durham gave just one example of this in his column this week:
“The mother of a colleague of mine supports Spurs and travels from her home in Surrey to White Hart Lane for every home game. On Sunday the trains were all messed up so she had to endure a long, slow painful bus replacement service there and back.”
Games on a Saturday at 3pm are just better in every sense. Supporters have routines, often ones that they have followed for years and for some, this is the best bit about going to the game. So it’s understandably frustrating when they are disrupted, as the fixtures are juggled around between broadcast companies. It happens with the early and late games on a Saturday, on Sundays and on Monday nights too.
Take Monday night games. After a long day in work, fans do well just to make it to the game, never mind make a racket. Is it any wonder the atmosphere at these games can be sometimes muted? Especially when you consider some of the ludicrous scheduling supporters have to put up with – something I touched upon in a previous article.
Rearranged games and crazy kick-off times suggest there is little regard for the regular, week-by-week supporter from the football higher-ups. Clubs allocate a certain amount of seats to season ticket holders at the start of the season and they will send out a shiny new booklet with perks, offers and benefits your season ticket can bring. But after they have that initial influx of income prior to the season, their focus shifts.
From an entirely monetary perspective, Premier League clubs don’t really want season ticket holders who turn up, watch the match and go back to the pub. They want day trippers: consumers who will buy a match ticket at a bloated price, a programme, a shirt, a scarf, a pie before the game and a pint at half time.
Of course, this doesn’t come cheap. And subsequently, the typical local supporter — one who might not be able to afford a season ticket, but might go to a few games each year — is being priced out of going to the game. They are often supporters who are, or were, the heart and soul of clubs; supporters who go a long way to creating a great atmosphere.
Mark Halsey spoke recently at the London Sports Writing Festival about how his favorite two grounds to referee in the country were Goodison Park and the Britannia Stadium because of the environment the supporters create. When pressed on iconic venues like Old Trafford, The Emirates and Anfield his response was ‘not really, too many day trippers have ruined the atmosphere’.
But is a problem that is creeping in everywhere. Whilst Halsey was full of praise for Goodison Park, it too can be library-like on occasions, trust me.
It’s fantastic that the Premier League attracts such a massive, wide-ranging audience. But if the nexus of the club’s supporters base is alienated and combined with some of the already-mentioned issues, then we will see more and more uninspiring atmospheres like those encountered at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Can fans possibly do more? Some Spurs supporters groups have pledged to do so in the wake of their managers comments. Nonetheless, there is a real fear brewing that supporters have been taken for granted for too long. We might be starting to feel the effect of that.
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