Team sport in essence, is tribalistc. Football, depending on your viewpoint, is the best or the worst. Although I could, I won’t bore you with the psychological reasons why. (I can hear the sighs of relief from here.) For decades, like the meagre coverage of the game, how we supported our clubs didn’t actually change much. We’ve all seen the black and white newsreels with the ‘weirdos’ dressed up in their teams colours at a cup final, and when there was black and white newsreels, ‘The Cup’ meant just the FA Cup. The League Cup hadn’t been created in England. For once, England lagged behind Scotland with that particular competition. There was incidences of hooliganism, usually involving northern clubs and excursions down to London for a cup final, but nothing like this country saw in the 70s and 80s. Singing on the other hand, didn’t really take off until the late 50s and early 60s. The story behind ‘Keep Right On’, has already been well documented. ‘You’re Never Walk Alone’ is attributed to Liverpool fans who have somewhat commandeered it like Blues have ‘Keep Right On’. The truth is, unlike how the singing of KRO came into being, it wasn’t started by Liverpool fans after hearing local hero Gerry Marsden and his irritating Pacemakers take it to number one, (Although that was probably their inspiration,) it was first started north of the border, by the green half of Glasgow, after hearing it over top of the end credits of the film Carousel, as they exited the cinema. Why YNWA became so popular, I’ve no idea, but KRO is a fantastic battle hymn. I’ve actually sung it to myself several times when life is on top of me. Anyway, before I get lost in giving you details of which set of fans sing what song, be it West Ham’s ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’, to Bristol Rovers ‘Goodnight Irene’, singing has become interwoven into the fabric of supporting your side. Train station concourse’s up and down this country and throughout the world, have reverberated with supporters singing, whether it’s triumphant or defiance. (Usually accompanied by a cacophony of barking police dogs.) It’s by far the best way of vocally backing your side. From trying to drown out the opposition fans, to venting your fury at a referee’s bad decision and aiming a derogatory song towards the official. Although, like I’ve said, singing is interwoven within support, since stadiums in this country were forced to become ‘all seater’, in the 90s, the spontaneous nature and inventiveness has somewhat dissipated. Many fans have bemoaned this, and have tried by various means to inject ‘atmosphere’ at grounds. For me, the ‘golden age’ of singing at football will remain in the 70s and 80s until the reappearance of terracing. Why? Simply, movement. If you were more inclined to want to sing, you’d move to where there was singing. You can’t really do that in the seats as you have a designated seat number on your season ticket, and seats physically spread the support out. Away games are different. You can of course, do what I do, and totally ignore what’s printed on the ticket, and move closer to the singing. I’ve worked out that the singing is always at, or near the top of whatever section you’ve been designated as the away club. I’ve worked out that the optimum time to find space next to them, is 8 minutes before kickoff. Why? A big number of fans will be congregated near the refreshment ‘bar’ Some will be trying to get a last beer, some their first, depending on how they’ve travelled. The same as I like to stand near the back, (Nobody, or hardly anyone, sits at away games, unless you really have to, or want to.) so there’s fans who regardless of where their seat is, will move to where it’s less boisterous and noisy. 8 minutes to kickoff, is when those fans generally like to be settled in. You will get a few late comers that adhere to what’s on their ticket, but you just move to where there’s space if you’re standing where their seat is. The players arriving on the pitch for kickoff, signals the emptying of the bar, it’s a free for all, and you just bunch up. There are of course, some grounds where the stewards will not only check your tickets before you attempt to enter the stand, and not only direct you to where you’re are supposed to be, but make sure you are actually in the seat your ticket states. My favourite places (Other than ‘proper’ terracing.) are the ones where it’s unreserved seating. A lot of the time though, I, like the rest of the Blues ale trailers, am one of the late comers. So late usually, that the game has kicked off. When that happens, you just try and find space. I’ve mentioned terracing, and the terracing down the Blues is what I miss most. It’s been over 25 years since the terracing went down at St Andrews, and I would go back to it in a heartbeat. I don’t mind admitting, but I cried my eyes out after the last game was played in front of the Kop and Tilton Tilton terracing. Even then, I knew how much impact having seats would make on the atmosphere and how you supported your club. So that’s the singing bit addressed, now onto colours and dress sense.
I know that before the widespread use of the whistle, the police used to draw attention to a perpetrator of a misdemeanor by the use of a mechanical rattle. The technology behind this noisy contraption, somehow found it’s way onto football ground terracing. These homemade things were painted in the owners favourite teams colours. Scarves and bobble hats were the only other things that could distinguish you from anyone else. Before the invention of mechanical ones, knitting machines tended to be (Not always though) exclusively a female family member or a kindly, well meaning neighbour. As most clubs tend to have at least 2 colours in their playing kit, the colours were reflected in the simple hooped designed bobble hats or bars of the scarf. 70s brought a more fashion consciousness onto the terraces, along with the demise of the rattle. Society was very much in its heyday in terms of employment, free time and wages. Youth culture in this country is what the rest of the world followed. Once the police had worked out how to control the conflict between the Mods and the Rockers, Britain’s youth looked for something else to get its teeth into. They’d got a taste for mob violence, but wanted something more regular. Unlike now, with its social media pressure, individuals followed peer pressure instead. For blokes who were brought up with football, the vehicle for their teenage angst and aggression was obvious. Along with the free time and the wiggle room better wages afforded, so fans started to travel in numbers more. The clubs who stood out in this decade for the number of travelling fans, were Leeds, who had the best team and such, were always competing for silverware, and Manchester United. United’s appeal was different. Because of the Munich air disaster, the nations sympathy attracted fans, they’d captured the imagination with victory at Wembley in the European Cup final in 68. In the 70s, United had slumped, but travelling and watching them had become fashionable and fun. It was fun for the wrong reasons. Along with innovations in the fashion industry, the culture of following a football club had shifted. It was now customary to ‘wear your colours with pride’. Different, by nature, stands out. In the 70s, you were considered ‘fair game’ if you were in between 16 (Unless you looked young for your age, 14 if you looked a lot older) and 35, (Again, age perception came into it.) and were brave or showed bravado enough to wear your teams colours. It was customary to try and ‘acquire’ a scarf from an opposing fan. It became fashionable to tie scarves round your neck like you would a normal neck tie, and tie a spare one round your wrist. Some would even tie one round their waist unless they were on the ‘large’ (Fat) side. Although small and far too young looking for my age, I attempted to ‘look hard’ and follow the trend, by wearing a scarf round my wrist. I was told to take it off by a policeman. (It wouldn’t be the last time I’d be ‘advised’ by a member of the ‘thick’ blue line.) As the 70s rolled into the 80s, fashion changed, as did hooliganism and the way it was policed. Before I enter that decade, I need to give a nod to one fashion item that wasn’t around for long on the terracing and for good reason too. The ‘silk’ scarf. The ‘silk’, was actually thin nylon, and someone had found a way of printing on it. It was an item that had found its way from pop souvenir and teenage girls bedroom walls, to football souvenir and round the necks of unsuspecting fans who were duped into buying them. These things didn’t last one wash. the print wore off, and the colour ran. Les bought one, and the royal blue turned to purple. Ok if you’re a Fiorentina fan, not if you’re trying to get away with the look on the Spion Kop. The 80s was a polar opposite of the 70s in many many ways. On the political front, the Tories and their Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, had been elected in 79. They went about the systematic dismantling of heavy industries in this country with gusto. They weren’t bothered about replacing it with anything, and basically left the populace to sort itself out. It meant huge swathes of unemployment in the industrialised North and Midlands. Opportunists filled the void. Especially in the South East, mass unemployment became msss self employment, the rest did what they could to supplement their unemployment benefits. It really was survival of fittest. Thatcher also took on football hooliganism. It was obvious she didn’t like the game or anything about it and went about confronting hooliganism. Segregation and perimeter fences became the norm, along with Union Jack flags with the away clubs name stitched on for identification. Policing was ramped up and became a lot more hostile. The Skinhead gangs of the late 70s, early 80s, with their stand out looks and colours, gave way to the next generation. The instigators of this new wave of hooligan were Aberdeen up in Scotland and Liverpool in England. They quickly realised that they needed to change their dress style to evade detection. They were inspired on their European excursions, the soccer casual was born. One that dressed differently and smarter, one that didn’t wear their teams colours. Of course, all other clubs fans cottoned on way before the police did. As the policing of football grounds became more oppressive and difficult to cause trouble, as the fighting moved outside and away from grounds. Gangs became ‘firms’, and got tighter. With no colours anymore, it was imperative you knew each other in your particular firm, or at least recognise people in it. Differences were a lot more subtle. Manchester United’s firm named themselves The Men In Black, because they dressed in…well…black obviously. West Ham wore predominantly burgundy. Wolves wore Pingle jumpers, Blues wore a lot of Burberry, and so the famous Burberry check was in evidence. Wearing colours, so long a beacon for opposition fans, were now only a beacon for the police and pub landlords. As heavy industries disappeared, so more street vendors appeared around grounds. The Japanese economy and its development in electronic technology, meant innovations, inventions and cheaper goods flooding British shops. Most club shops were meagre in their stock range, opportunist entrepreneurs exploited the gap. Now dressed in designer clothes, firms took to wearing only their clubs emblem in small badge form and……well….that was it. Badge sellers sprang up. One item of clothing that I was extremely envious of, that only ever made its appearance at F.A.Cup semi finals and F.A.Cup and League Cup finals, was an 8 panel flat cap in nylon with your team colours in alternative panels. I soooooo wanted one. You could only ever buy them from street vendors and like I said, were synonymous with F.A.Cup semi finals and finals. They became like status symbols to me. The closest Blues ever got when these things were around, was the quarter final in 84. Oh how I hate Watford for beating us….. Half and half bobble hats made an appearance on the streets and terracing. They weren’t those horrible half and half souvenir scarves you see now, these were half your club, half Rangers, Celtic, Union Jack or St George’s flag. I bought myself, a half Blues, half St George’s flag one, instantly ripping off the bobble and turning it into a ski hat as was the fashion. Now I’ve mentioned 84, I’ll have to talk about the start of the nations and club commercial departments love affair with the replica club shirt. The replica shirt first reared its head in the very early 80s and was aimed solely at the children’s market. For the first couple of years, they didn’t even produce them in adult sizes and as such, wasn’t seen as a fashion item. Emulation is part and parcel of hero worship. Kids not only wanted to play like their heroes, they wanted to look like them too. Thing is, there wasn’t really anywhere outside of P.E. class, where you could wear them. Football of course, is a winter sport, many a kid would’ve reluctantly ‘Put a jumper on before you catch a death of the cold.’. So why 1984? In 84, Plymouth Argyll got to the F.A.Cup semi final. It was televised of course, (Though not live) and a young Plymouth fan greeted his heroes arrival onto the Vile Park pitch clinging to the perimeter fence at the bottom of the Holte. Not only was his image captured, but he was wearing his short sleeved replica shirt over top of his sweatshirt. He had inadvertently started a fashion trend that would’ve earned him billions had he been able to patent the idea. Adults can dress how they want however, and scarves and bobble hats are too hot to wear when the weather is warmer. Wearing colours was now deemed ‘safe’ to sport, and so there was clamour and demand for adult size replica shirts. Shirts were produced and rapidly sold out. The replica shirt market was born. Something clubs commercial departments could exploit. In 1994, Arsenal sold a quarter of a million AWAY shirts. Knowing that the sales of the home shirt would’ve been greater, I found this surprising at the time. Sales of the replica shirt in most cases, will be the second biggest income after gate receipts now.
So where are we now in terms of support? Well now everyone, everywhere can sit at home in their armchair, dressed in their favourite teams replica shirt and watch them on the television without having to ever visit the town or city they reside, let alone the ground they play in. If they do feel a compunction to actually go to a game, they can now register with the club, download and print a ticket off, complete with its barcode in the safety of their own home. Watching the game has become sterile, plastic, convoluted, orchestrated. Supporters of local, lower league clubs are seen as stupid by the armchair fans of the huge, trophy winning clubs of the Premier League. It’s no wonder that supporters of lower league clubs have nothing but contempt for armchair fans. Blues may have been in the Premier League and actually managed to pick up a trophy when they were there, but watching football lower down, is far more enjoyable. Where does football supporting go from here? Gone are the days when you just turned up with enough time to spare so you were guaranteed to gain entrance. Paying at the turnstile is a thing of the past in the top two divisions and the vast majority of the next two. It’s mostly just the Non-League pyramid you can do that. It means you have to commit to going to a game. Once you’ve got your ticket, you have to hope for whatever reason, the kickoff isn’t moved. Season tickets are almost compulsory if you want to guarantee getting a ticket for an away game for fans of clubs that have large support. Obviously a season ticket is a big outlay. The poorer fans struggle to vindicate affording one when they have families. There’s been a shift in where support comes from. Few fans live near the ground anymore, simply because the ground ‘isn’t in a nice area’. A lot more fans drive to a game than they did even 25 years ago. Even more if the ground is a new build on the very edge of the town. The traditional working class fan base has become more family and middle class based. I see far more fans dressed in their replica shirts sat in their family units, than I ever imagined I’d see when I first started watching football. No doubt, these family units will go back to their car on the sprawling club carpark and drive home from the new out of town stadium. Few clubs have got it right with new grounds. Owners don’t take much heed to what a fan wants, but what they think they want. Some owners don’t even care. Fans of Forest Green have to put up with the dictator that owns them. He doesn’t give a second thought about them or away fans that will attempt to watch their team at the planned new ground. He’s intent on forcing his Eco philosophy on an unsuspecting public. If you believe I’m being a tad dramatic, then research the plans that have been given permission. Research how to get to the proposed ground by public transport. Trying to get to the Forest Green ground now, is hard enough, and he’s going to plonk the new one in the middle of nowhere. Even the thought of it, sends shivers down my spine. Talking of owners and eluding to loyalty. Also not wishing to sound xenophobic, foreign ownership has increased and carries on increasing. It’s now at a stage where protests and the way we protest has had to change. Supporters on the main, have no idea who owns their club anymore. The option is either walk away from the club you’ve supported all your life, or turn into an internet super sleuth that puts the fraud squad to shame. For every owner that actively gets involved with the intention of improving the club, and progressing upwards, there’s at least another half dozen who run a club to the brink of destruction. Player wise, loyalty is a dirty word. We are now in a position where players are nothing but mercenaries who have no affinity with the club that pays their wages. Wages that show no relation to the wages of the supporters that watch them. The replica shirt market is such, that each season brings another design of both the first, change and usually, third kit. Each season seems to bring yet another advertising logo to accompany the main club sponsor. Shirts are becoming more and more like the things Formula One drivers wear. Replica shirt collecting has actually replaced programme collecting. The backlash is that there’s swathes of fans turning their backs to the game at the top level, and are now watching the Non-League circuit. You can turn up, pay cash to gain entry, stand with your mates, have a sing song and watch players playing for the love of it. In most cases, you can even have a pint while you’re watching the game. It’s Old Skool, and it’s highly enjoyable.