(a particularly uncouth collection of soccer fans, hellbent on ruining a journalist’s quiet afternoon in the fresh air)
Middlesbrough’s recent attempt to hush up a particularly raucous section of the Riverside has met with global ridicule, but the Independent‘s DJ Taylor has considerable sympathy for the club’s attempts at improving the matchday atmosphere (“what are seats there for, if not to be sat on?”).
As to the specific point that was being made about Middlesbrough’s vocal and increasingly desperate home support (the team are in free fall and haven’t registered a league win in weeks), this particular fan is with Ms Watson. Like many a season ticket-holder, I suspect, faced with last month’s renewal form, I am in my usual quandary: relish of the game contending with a lurking awareness that soccer grounds are deeply unpleasant places. One wouldn’t perhaps go as far as the friend of mine who, observing the rows of contorted faces at the last Chelsea-Man United match, remarked that you could solve most of the country’s social problems at a stroke by locking up everyone present, but even my thrice-monthly stake-out at Norwich City’s Carrow Road ground is less of a pleasure than once it was.
Norwich, it should straight away be said, has one of the friendliest stadiums in the Championship. There is rarely any crowd trouble, and the locale positively seethes with Football in the Community initiatives and groups of embarrassed eight-year-olds being brought on to the pitch to wave to the crowd. On the other hand, you do get slightly tired of the sound of high, treble voices yelling “You’re shit … aargh!” whenever the opposing goalkeeper steps up to kick the ball, the assumption that any opponent who falls over is simply shamming, the male voice choir of the Barclay End chanting “Who are the fucking hell are you?” at the visiting fans, and those choleric middle-aged butterballs for whom a poor refereeing decision is evidence of a kind of cosmic conspiracy. None of this, the game’s apologists always explain, is soccer’s fault: it is, that ever-reliable culprit, “the culture’s”. Thirty years ago, while the soccer grounds of my youth could be extraordinarily violent places, the violence was usually confined to certain parts of the terraces. These days sporadic hooliganism seems to have been replaced by a uniform, low-level boorishness. In the meantime, hats off to Ms Watson, in what is likely to be a long and remorseless struggle.
Though chanting “Taylor’s from Norwich / he eats a lot of porridge” is rather tempting (with great apologies to Robyn Hitchcock), it’s even tougher not to fantasize how much lower the Independent’s circulation would drop were the paper to devote fewer column inches per day to football. It would be horrible to think Mr. Taylor’s salary is being subsidized by pandering to morons and scum.