“I am not nostalgic for the days when football was not a family game, characterised memorably by Billy Connolly, 30 years ago, as a time ‘when they are shitting in our shoes and we are pissing in their Bovril’” recalls the Guardian’s Rob Bagchi. “The fear of getting your head kicked in was rife. But I cannot stand the noise pollution now provided by clubs who think you can be dragooned into behaving in a particular way.”
They must have a pretty dim view of us if they think we don’t know how to celebrate a goal without some sort of cue. I first noticed this phenomenon in America, at NBA games, when the Wurlitzer was switched into hunting-horn mode and a reveille was used to prompt the crowd to chant “Charge!” when the home team had the ball or “Defence!” when an opposition attack was mounted. Nothing could be left to chance – an atmosphere had to be manufactured to suit the spectacle.
When the Premier League was launched in 1992, Sky tried to import such American razzmatazz. Their notorious half-time show for Monday night games featured the Sky Strikers dancing troupe and there was a post-match firework display, too. Widespread ridicule from people who had, on sufferance, tolerated the Dagenham Girl Pipers for decades prompted Sky to accept that the sight of cheerleaders belting out Toni Basil’s Mickey and hectoring fans to join in on a November evening at Boundary Park was incongruous at best. The experiment in supporter manipulation was stopped after only one season.
If only some clubs had been as wise. Instead, those who struggle to fill their grounds – in some instances because, ironically, their fans don’t want a sanitised and orchestrated experience – persist in the belief that you can fill an atmospheric void with muzak, giant foam hands, comedy hats and the infernal clack-clack of those damned rubber clappers. The self-proclaimed “best league in the world”, which prides itself on the authenticity of its unique matchday “event”, is prepared to cheat, to give the level of crowd participation a helping hand if it does not come up to scratch.