There’s no question that Jose Mourinho was unwise to complain about the volume of the Chelsea supporters at the weekend. When you’ve paid as much as £75 for a ticket, you shouldn’t have to put up with your own manager criticising you in public.
Nevertheless, the man had a point. The subdued, expectant atmosphere at Stamford Bridge doesn’t come close to the ferocity of a night at Selhurst Park. But the same could also be said for a number of Premier League venues.
The Emirates is improving, but only occasionally generates a real cacophony. Anfield has those trademarked “magical European nights,” but away supporters on a Saturday afternoon are often startled at how muted the place can be. All over the country, there are familiar complaints.
For this, there are two key reasons. Firstly, that all-seater stadiums prevent the natural accumulation of noisy supporters. Secondly, and rather pertinently in Chelsea’s case, that the game has priced those most likely to sing, the young, right out of the stadium.
And let’s not get distracted by partisanship. It’s far easier to sneer at a team you hate than it is to recognise that this is not a problem exclusive to Stamford Bridge. The problems that annoy Chelsea fans annoy Arsenal fans too. There is more that unites the match-going supporters of Manchester United and Liverpool than either group would care to admit. Only by addressing this as a unified force will any kind of change be affected. And to do that we’ve really got to stop pointing and laughing at each other.
Nor can we allow supporters to be classified as whopping great homogenous lumps with a collective mindset. We’re all different. Some are loud, some are quiet. Some want to sing, some want to sit quietly. Some are impressionable and some are slow to follow. It’s easy to be boisterous when you’re lucky enough to be surrounded by your mates, or those of a similar vocal bent. What if you’re next to the bloke who is never, ever satisfied and won’t stop berating the manager? Or someone who wants to watch through the shutter of his iPad? Or, as you can so often find at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates, you’re surrounded by people who just don’t go very often.
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The idea that there aren’t noisy Chelsea fans is as ludicrous as the idea that there aren’t noisy Arsenal fans. They are there, they’re just scattered around the stadium, pinned to wherever their ticket has put them. With terraces, you could go where you wanted, worming your way into the noisy middle behind the goal. With all seater stadiums and high prices, you don’t get that choice. And let’s not forget that some people don’t want to sing, they want to sit and watch the game quietly, happily letting it unfold in front of them.
The obvious solution is safe standing, but this will require great sensitivity, wide discussion and all the time necessary to find a responsible way forward. In the meantime, perhaps it would be worth looking at the very nature of the all seater stadium.
Manchester United were mocked in some quarters for creating an ad hoc ‘singing’ section, but it allowed the noisy people to get together. Another idea would be to look at removing some of the restrictions on seats, allowing supporters to sit where they like in an individual block of seats instead of precisely where their ticket tells them to sit.
This would require group co-operation and, presumably, a certain amount of shuffling up, but we manage to freely seat ourselves on buses without too much fuss. Can we really not be trusted to do it in a stadium?
Mourinho probably shouldn’t have said it, but that doesn’t stop him being right. Stamford Bridge can be a little quiet. Now we have to choose what we do with this information. Do we have an open, constructive discussion with a view to improving the game for everyone? Or do we make it like the £62 ticket affair at the Emirates in 2012 and take a flag that supporters could have rallied behind and use it as a stick for Arsenal-bashing?
Arsenal are at odds of 7.00 to beat Anderlecht 2-0 tonight.