One thing that stood out when tuning into the UEFA Champions League matches over the last couple of weeks was the thunderous atmosphere conjured by a plethora of sides involved.
Teams like Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Schalke, Paris Saint-Germain and Shakhtar Donetsk—at a stadium that wasn’t even their own, no less—were afforded a stellar backdrop to some gripping matches as the fans looked to give their team the nudge needed to qualify for the next stage. But watching matches at the Etihad Stadium and the Emirates in the same competition, the crowd noise was comparably underwhelming.
This isn’t a slant on Manchester City or Arsenal either, for almost in unanimity the atmosphere at Premier League stadiums seem to have plunged into a deathly lull. For a league that’s long been associated with unrelenting, unashamed and irrepressible fandom, it’s a deteriorating facet of the match-day experience that represents a major concern.
Of course, big games are usually an exception, with derby matches and crucial encounters between positional rivals still prompting emotional dins to accompany the frantic action. But these stirring days are becoming increasingly scarce on the domestic scene and even for the respective visits of Barcelona and Monaco, they didn’t seem to be a fizz worthy occasion.
Managers seem to be catching on to the fact as well. Andre Villas-Boas was famously critical of the Tottenham supporters during his tenure at White Hart Lane, while Jose Mourinho and Gus Poyet have also been quizzical of their respective teams’ fans so far this season.
It’s peculiar because in years gone by, managers criticizing supporters would simply not happen. “The fans pay their money and are entitled to do as they wish” goes the narrative. But when a boss takes a swipe at his own supporters these days, it’s met with “he’s right, though” and a reconciled shrug of the shoulders.
So what’s prompted this shift in mentality? Why are supporters seemingly resigned to the fact that English stadiums are no longer a hotbed of avid fanaticism?
The easiest—and most common—factor to blame is the continued entrenchment of the Premier League as a global brand. Clubs naturally want supporters to visit from across the globe as they are much more lucrative consumers than the average match-going fan. The subsequent anecdote goes that the influx of supporters from around the world and their unfamiliarity with various match-day rituals dilute the atmosphere.
But such is the clear regression at the majority of stadiums in recent years, to attribute this all-encompassing hush to day trippers is a little simplistic and unfair. Some of these fans will actually be well acquainted with traditions and will seamlessly take to them when at the match; it’s difficult not to become familiarised given the immersive coverage of the division across the globe.
Pricing is obviously a pertinent issue and something that’s been hauled under the spotlight again recently following the announcement of the Premier League’s new £5.1 billion television deal. The hiking costs mean that the demographic at matches in the league has seen a seismic shift towards older punters as ticket prices have vastly superseded the standard rate inflation throughout the Premier League era.