THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 30 April ~

The flag, draped over the front of a stand, is a modified St George cross with M, U, F and C written in the four corners and "The Religion" across the horizontal bar in the centre. It's one of many such flags you'll see around at Old Trafford and similarly bombastic messages are displayed at many other grounds on matchdays. Sometimes they take the form of declarations directed at a specific opponent – a group of Liverpool fans had "We Achieve Your Dreams" on a banner for one of their many Champions League ties with Chelsea a few years ago. There's nothing wrong with supporters declaring their attachment to their clubs, of course. But why do so many people have to be so pompous about it?

There was a time when banners were mostly slapdash homemade efforts, painted on bedsheets that were attached to sticks so they could be hoisted up on a crowded terrace. TV cameras would pick out the best ones on Cup final days and some entered football folklore as a result – the Leeds supporters' "Norman Bites Yer Legs" at the 1973 FA Cup final being probably the best known example. They disappeared for a while when changes to safety regulations in the wake of the stadium disasters of the 1980s led to a ban on flammable materials being brought into grounds.

Once the terraces had been replaced, we entered a new era of modified flags displayed across the front of stands announcing where their owners live – it seems that half the population of Bletchley go to England away games. Sometimes there's a commercial message (a regular at Liverpool's European ties displays the number of his cab firm) but mostly the humour has gone.

In much the same way that spontaneous singing has been replaced by music blaring from stadium Tannoys, clubs have also created their own messages. Aston Villa have "The Holte End – The 12th Man" displayed across the stand of the same name and on the opposite North Stand some lines from the TV commentary on their goal that won the 1982 European Cup. This a long way from the club-sanctioned ultra displays seen around Europe and South American stadiums where supporters are still able to exercise some degree of autonomy over what they do on matchdays.

Our flare-free stadiums are theme parks now. When supporters hold up their bar scarves in unison, you can see hundreds of camera flashes going off in the crowd as they photograph themselves having a football fan experience. Of course football grounds should be places where people can feel like part of a community but too often it seems like a community that has been corralled and cowed. Oh, and stick the flag in a skip – nobody cares where you're from. Carl Hawkins

Comments (6)
Comment by ian.64 2009-04-30 13:30:04

"The flag, draped over the front of a stand, is a modified St George cross with M, U, F and C written in the four corners and "The Religion" across the horizontal bar in the centre. It's one of many such flags you'll see around at Old Trafford and similarly bombastic messages are displayed at many other grounds on matchdays. Sometimes they take the form of messages directed at a specific opponents – a group of Liverpool fans had "We Achieve Your Dreams" on a banner for one of their many Champions League ties with Chelsea a few years ago. There's nothing wrong with supporters declaring their attachment to their clubs, of course. But why do so many people have to be so pompous about it?"

Not all fans are like that (although it's telling that the examples picked are those supporting top four clubs), but there is this tendency where masturbation rather than supporting takes over and this horrid supporter-based self-love - where supporting a top club somehow instils a superior sense of evolution over the rest of football fandom - rankles those not given to overblown glorification.

Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-04-30 13:30:05

What makes Liverpool fans think they "achieve my dreams"?

Comment by Monty 2009-04-30 14:18:57

This supporter made gem from Luton was (sadly but) unsurprisingly not allowed into Wembley.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3348/3415957498_2f203b396e.jpg

Fans of childish gags however will be pleased to know that a flag with "Mawhinney the Pooh" written on it did manage to sneak under the Wembley radar.

Comment by Portmuthian_Blue 2009-04-30 15:17:30

On the digital camera point, there was a great/depressing moment in our match against AC Milan in November when I saw someone pointing at Ronaldinho with one hand singing "who are ya?" and taking a picture of him with the other.

Comment by fbrazolin 2009-04-30 16:19:22

"Not all fans are like that (although it's telling that the examples picked are those supporting top four clubs), but there is this tendency where masturbation rather than supporting takes over and this horrid supporter-based self-love - where supporting a top club somehow instils a superior sense of evolution over the rest of football fandom - rankles those not given to overblown glorification."

Sadly, it's happening in Brazil also. There is some kind of feeling that makes many supporters feel proud because they support this or that club. And it's not the kind of positive vibe, it's more likely a pompous and high-class proud.

Also, the ultras in Brazil most of the time are more worried about singing chants praising themselves and their organisations than the team itself. It's sad.

Comment by ooh aah 2009-05-02 03:39:13

Perhaps if Chelsea's manager had not been so ungracious when his team were knocked out by Liverpool in 2005, then perhaps Liverpool's fans wouldn't have felt the need to rub it in next time their paths crossed.

And surely MUFC The Religion is just a positive message for the club and the fans, not some jibe at their rivals. But it's at OT so therefore it must be 'bombastic'. As for Villa displaying commentary from the Euro Cup win, well it was probably the greatest achievement in the club's long history, a club which hasn't had much success since. There should be some sort of reference to it somewhere in the stadium, just to act as a reminder to the 'big four' that football history didn't start in 1992. Perhaps they should remove the offending commentary and replace it with some extra advertising hoardings for betfair and budweiser.

In short the article could be summerised as 'football fandom was better in my day' Well I'm sure you're right, but we all know that anyway, we've been hearing the same thing for nearly 30 years. It's not just football where the atmosphere has changed though, it's happened at rugby grounds too (at least in my experience it has anyway) and I think that has as much to do with what we the viewing public want, as it does with football authorities and the media sucking the life out of the game.

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