Do you remember “Arsenalisation”? If it was your home, you’d call it redecoration. Lovely murals, words from yesterday’s men to inspire supporters on their way to the ‘New Home Of Football’; a way for the club to make the new gaff feel welcoming and ease the pain of leaving Highbury.
In parts it worked but there was – and remains – one particular problem: how to improve the atmosphere? How to make The Emirates a seething cauldron of noise, off-putting and unwelcoming for opposing players? Supporters groups put forward many initiatives to try and improve things. Banners, singing sections; the efforts continue but struggle at times for many reasons, not least of which is the apathy that the current season has inspired.
The underlying assumption is also wrong. Highbury could be that hostile environment but it too was equally prone to bouts of sheer indifference as a judgement passed on the fare on offer. Regulations and laws which require top flight clubs to be all-seater have been in place since the Taylor Report into the tragic events at Hillsborough was wilfully misinterpreted by the-then Conservative government and football as an industry, was too weak to oppose.
Removing terraces made football grounds safer places but they had become that way in the first place through the actions of generations of supporters, police and a woeful lack of investment by clubs. That action only came about due to the deaths of 96 people through the criminal negligence of South Yorkshire Police speaks volumes about everyone involved.
It happened and the worst fears of all-seater stadia manifested, certainly in English football. Even grounds such as Anfield, fabled for their atmosphere, became libraries. Highbury was that as well at times and having tried most things, the one remaining avenue to explore is safe standing.
English football, the rawness of the Hillsborough inquests still fresh, is not yet ready to invest in that.
Europe has not been so shy. The most famous example is Dortmund, terracing for 25,000 supporters is in place for domestic matches, proving that it is possible for stadia to operate safely with these areas in place. The English game is not so convinced and despite the encouraging words, I don’t think Arsenal will ever go down the route of reintroducing those areas, even if the government and Premier League sanction them.
Quite simply, Arsenal are too focussed on revenue and with one of the key planks of these areas being affordability as well as generating atmosphere, to rekindle the passion about the game which English grounds lack. In short, if they take this step, either a drop in revenues is accepted or other ticket prices rise to subsidise the introduction of this area.
The latter is a move, I hasten to add, that I believe will lead to resentment over safe standing and one which confirms that the club pays more attention to the pounds than supporters.
From the club’s point of view, the opening of such an area at Celtic is hugely significant.
If it doesn’t sell out, if it doesn’t make money, they aren’t going to be interested. If it works, if it generates atmosphere, then that may give them pause for thought.
But crucially, there needs to be understanding that this isn’t a return to the ‘good old days’ because frankly they could be horrible. What needs to be rekindled is the spirit the terraces generated, the sense of belonging, of community, of togetherness. We felt closer to the club then but that time has gone.
This and future generations of supporters have to develop their own terrace culture when the moment arrives. Pricing will help; football, certainly at Arsenal, continues to price some out of the game, no matter what window dressing initiatives the club introduces.
The reason the likes of Kroenke and Usmanov invest in football is that there is money to be made. Controlling the club, Kroenke has given the direction he wants it to go in and there’s not one shred of evidence from his US franchises that this is going to change or veer tangibly off that course. Only significant increases in broadcast revenues even offer the possibility of changing that and we’re still some way of diminishing matchday revenues to the point where they are insignificant.
But Celtic offers hope that the future isn’t too far away for supporters. A small victory into asserting our presence into the game once more – making our voices heard.