THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Some people think all-seat stadiums are a good thing. Try as he might, Matt Stone is not inclined to agree with them

The pieces fell into place after a chance meeting. I happened to be standing next to a friend’s brother in the Gents, complaining, as I had all season to anyone who’d listen, about the people who sit behind me. As I got into my stride, a look of awful realization came over his face.

It transpired that my acquaintance had moved his seat in the summer from the very spot I now have. (I don’t want to name the club concerned on the off chance that my adversaries can read and might work out that I’m writing about them, so suffice to say that I’m watching Premiership football in London.)
 
Last season I found the blokes in front of me obnoxious. But they were paragons compared to my 1995-96 pals. Both years I have sought consolation by scanning the other seats in my block in the hope of finding a fellow sufferer, trapped behind mad ranters, to no avail.
 
I know what they say about football being a place where people can give vent to deep-seated emotions. Take it from me that the club’s printed warnings about the various unacceptable forms of behaviour is used as a handy tick-list. But these people are offensive in ways the club hasn’t thought of – particularly to women, whose presence in the ground fills them with a savage bitterness.
 
Every week we are made to suffer ninety minutes of bile directed at a multiplicity of targets – both sets of players, the officials, the ballboys, the manufacturers of the ball – often within one intricately constructed sentence that can last, with punctuation for breathing, for the duration of an entire half. My companion feels himself grateful to be slightly deaf. We witnessed the final irony just recently as a (terse but polite) request to curtail their language was met by them complaining to stewards.
 
Two years ago, the ground went all-seater and we were told that a new era had dawned. From now on all supporters would reap the benefits from these expensive upgrades. I’d asked for a move as soon as last season ended and was shown three pairs of seats, with views all slightly worse than last year’s, but all offering the lure of a bigot-free season for my £350. As if. Instead, I find myself parked squarely behind the twin spawn of a back-bench Tory MP and a testy camel, and I’m now almost nostalgic for my old seat.
 
It’s possible there were more dickheads in the crowd ten years ago, but I didn’t have to watch every game with them. When I first started going I could move around, please myself – I could even change ends at half-time and get home in time for Dr Who. This all now feels like it happened about fifty years ago.
 
I had a season ticket when I could stand, and would, er, jump at the chance to do so again. I accept that I am supposedly paying to see the best players, but the cost is still outrageous. I suppose it was only a matter of time before impressionable club officials attended marketing courses involving the repeated mantra “unbelievably inelastic demand curve” and hiked prices. Equally, it appears the elastic broke at the Old Trafford Semi-Final.
 
According to the recent Channel 4 programme, Undercover Britain, hundreds of dead people renew their season tickets each year. I reckon most people who don’t renew, or who request a move, are sitting near citizens of Hell.
 
Faced with this situation, you’ve got three options: you could stop going altogether, which is a desperate step; you could buy tickets for each match, which is a hassle, it’s expensive and you’ve no guarantee of Cup tickets; or, you can move seats, but rest assured the reason the seats are available is because the previous occupiers were driven to distraction by the noises coming from the row behind or in front of them and demanded to move.
 
So you’re stuck with shuffling around from one set of madmen to the next, letting them spoil your year’s football and spending £380 in the process. Something’s gone fundamentally wrong with the football revolution when paying £250 to have Richard Keys in your front room begins to seem like a good deal.

From WSC 111 May 1996. What was happening this month

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