An away day at Pride-less Park

9 01 2009

Is it harmless banter or malicious intent that fuels the football fans chanting and taunting from the terraces?

As I set off East Midlands-bound for Manchester United’s Carling Cup semi-final encounter with Derby County at their Pride Park stadium on Wednesday I reluctantly anticipated a footballing upset. Sure enough the upset materialised, but in later reflecting on the events of that night what I found most distressing was in fact the behaviour of the football fans, in what was a thoroughly pride-less display.

In the bars and pubs around Derby – I can only account for those that allowed themselves to be overrun by the travelling United fans – the singing and chanting rang out loud and clear from our vocal support. Anyone who ventured near, including the local police who bravely entered a number of times, would have certainly been impressed by the bold, brash and unwavering chants that reverberated about the streets. Yet despite this merriness, the closer it got to kick off, the more malevolent and ominous the chanting became as the atmosphere began to take on an uncomfortable air as if some were preparing for conflict.

One chant in particular struck a nerve and set my mind in motion for this post you have before you. This song I speak of put lyrics and verse to the tragic event of two Leeds United fans that were stabbed to death in violent clashes with Galatasaray fans in Turkey on an away European night in 2000.

As kick-off approached and the songs followed the throng of fans out the pubs we made our way to the stadium which was already resounding with rumbling noise as it was filling up. As we queued at the ticket collection point my friend let out a show of frustration for the delay in his ticket arriving only to hear vulgar racist insults spurted out in his direction by a fellow United fan.

For the full 90 minutes the volleys of chanting rebounded between both sets of fans. The United faithful were only to be silenced momentarily by the jubilation erupting from three sides of the ground when Kris Commons’ thunderbolt crashed into the back of the net, yet the fans exuberance could not be transmitted to the players and the Premiership champions floundered to a 1-0 defeat. As the final whistle went it appeared that the vociferous chanting from the away end had to take on a more physical form and so, just on cue, kids as young as 12 proceeded to kick in the Derby stadium seats in vain attempts at salvaging the last laugh while being chased away by fluorescently attired stewards.

“Best fans in the world,” quoted Wayne Rooney recently. I find it hard to believe that this behaviour represents the pinnacle that is on show in this institution’s supporters. The pride I exclusively hold for my team was quickly wearing thin for this contingent of my fellow travelling fans.

Heysel Stadium Disaster

As we trudged back toward the station surrounded by several equally disgruntled United fans sounding out excuses for the defeat, my friend recounted a particularly terrifying confrontation with opposition fans outside Liverpool’s Anfield stadium barely a year ago after a United injury-time victory. In recognising his thick Manchester accent a group, shrouded by hoodies and scarves over their faces, caught up with him and his two friends and proceeded to kick seven shades of sh- out of them in broad daylight. The current threat of clashes between football firms that undeniably persists from its most savage days of the 80s is clearly still alive and evidently kicking.

There is no love lost between Manchester United and Liverpool FC on the pitch no less than between the two cities inhabitants. The history of skirmishes between the two fierce rivals is well documented by the teams’ supporters eager to get the terraces going in reminding the opposition of the tragedies of their past.

Most recently, the Michael Shields incident occurring in Istanbul and the possible incarceration of an innocent man has encouraged ridicule from the Stretford End of Old Trafford. These chants would undoubtedly be sparked off or responded to by references to the Munich air disaster of 1958 and insufferable imitations of plane engines which constantly pierced my eardrums when travelling to Old Trafford on the Manchester Metro last season. Then again, this would only encourage the retaliation of the chant “Murderers…murderers…” by the United culprits in reminding of the tragic Heysel and Hillsborough Disasters of the 80s resulting in the deaths of 39 and 96 fans crushed and trampled to death in the melee and mayhem of matches both involving Liverpool fans. 

In witnessing the infectious animalistic chanting that pours down from the football terraces across the country, I question whether this method of supporting the team closest to your heart has lost all sporting meaning and given way to a malicious mob like mentality.

So what is it that churns up these primitive emotions at Pride Park and every other football stadium on Saturday afternoons? What is it that keeps people coming back for more generation after generation? Can this behaviour be accepted or must it be excused as part and parcel, just a bit of fun, all part of the game?

Just as with Wazza (Mr. Rooney) take away the fury that burns the fire in his belly and you’ll lose the spirit and enthusiasm of his performance – rid the game of these away-day duels and terrace taunts and you’ll lose the passion at the core of Britain’s football tradition.

But for me, the more sung about the history of the club and the players, and the less said about these supporter feuds and past conflicts the better; to ensure these future away-days remind football fans to protect the pride of the tradition and lose the prejudice of the game.

What their team means to a United fan

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One response

10 01 2009
Becca Caddy

Very well written. Although I think for some fans the boisterous, bordering on violent behaviour is what they thrive on. Which is obviously a shame for fans genuinely interested in the sport. Again, it’s a shame really that fooball has that darker side but I think it’s too ingrained now for it to ever change. It seems strange that some people have to equate passion for violence?

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