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The public address system at the modern football ground is one of the most irritating aspects of following the game and is getting worse

10 July ~ “Ladies and Gentlemen: The Carling Cup!” Exactly what we were supposed to do at this point wasn’t entirely clear. Were we meant to cheer it or chant its name? Maybe they thought we had forgotten what it was. Or maybe this announcement at the Millennium Stadium after Boro had beaten Bolton was completely and utterly surplus to requirements.

I had been to the semi, I had asked for favours and shelled out hard cash to buy the tickets and then fought my way through the Cardiff traffic – I knew what I was there to see. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would have been lost if that announcement had not been made. In the unlikely event of there being a mass desire to applaud a man carrying a cup, surely it would have been better had it happened spontaneously?

You may ask was there any harm in a man announcing the Carling Cup as if it was a guest at a posh dinner. Well, it got on my nerves and they had been through the shredder enough times that day. It interrupted rather than added to the noise level. After all, it is not as though the Boro fans who had witnessed their team win something proper for the first time were waiting silently to be told what they could and could not cheer.

The public address system at the modern football ground is one of the most irritating aspects of following the game and is getting worse. It has its uses, but these should be strictly limited. Teams need to be announced, goalscorers identified and away fans kept behind for 15 minutes (just for fun), but after that a little bit of background music at reasonable volume is all that is justified. Every club now seems to have its own special pre-match routine. If there is a special piece of music by all means play it, but keep it short, keep the volume manageable and then shut up.

It is not many years since PA systems didn’t work and people would joke about not understanding what announcements at railway stations said – but no more. The technology now exists for a geek in a box to dominate the whole build-up and half-time at a football match and that is a backward step.

My first experience of the new beefed-up PA with enforced entertainment came at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. The resident DJ started to play Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights segued with Republica’s Ready To Go. It worked and went down well until success went to his head and he found the volume switch. It is in the blood of all DJs to go too far whenever they get a sniff of something working. But credit where it is due: Sunderland do it much better than Newcastle, where the players are welcomed with a pale imitation of what happens down the A19.

Barnet announcer

At St James’ Park they mix from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana to Mark Knopfler’s Local Hero. Not only do you have to listen to the jarring change but it comes at ear-splitting volume that would deafen sheep on the Northumberland hills. And worse still it lasts for what seems like an hour. It is a great way to destroy an atmosphere. I would actually go as far as to say this awful noise is one reason why St James’ Park ain’t what it used to be.

And I know this is not just a north-east phenomenon. I went to a pre-season game at Bramall Lane with some friends but we barely spoke a word before the match or at half-time because it was too much of a battle against the idiot with a Sugababes CD and the loud speaker. You wouldn’t put up with it on a train or a tube, but at football we have no choice.

This situation is getting rapidly worse and I wonder whether it is just down to the technology or whether there is a more sinister force at work. When things change for the more annoying there is usually someone making a quick buck out of it. Certainly one side-effect of the ridiculous noise levels at the Millennium Stadium is that it was impossible to ignore the adverts running on the big screens. Remember FIFA has recently floated the idea of a 20-minute half-time so we may soon have to endure an elongated break filled with adverts for mobile phones and double glazing.

But there is also an increasing tendency to controlfreakery among football clubs. As the announcer is turned up, the club controls what is said at games and dominates the agenda. Less time, then, for unwelcome criticism and discussion among fans. Of course this conspiracy theorising could be missing a coup d’état of geeks. Inept DJs who can’t command an audience on local radio are seizing a chance to torment a captive audience.

Like the wedding DJ who turns down the music on YMCA and instructs everyone to join in, they don’t understand that they are not the centre of attention and that nobody has come for them. Only in Wolverhampton is such behaviour considered cool. It really is an audio experience to behold when they turn down the music during Jeff Beck’s Hi Ho Silver Lining and instead of “Silver Lining” all the Wolves fan sing “Wolverhampton”. But as far as I can tell this is an exception and such intrusion is generally not welcome. Most clubs think a spod with a biscuit-tin full of Now That’s What I Call Music CDs is more important than songs that have been developed over many decades.

I firmly believe there is a silent, deafened minority who regard this as a blight that is harming the sport. I’m not so grumpy that I allowed Boro winning the Carling Cup to be ruined by the PA, it’s just that it poked at an already open sore. After all, what is the point of saying “Ladies and gentlemen, Middlesbrough and Boltoooonnnnn” at the end of the match. This guy was just thinking of things to say for the sake of it. I already knew who was playing and this added nothing.

With the atmosphere at all-seat stadiums not as lively as when we could stand up and chant obscenities, the last thing we need is another blow. The message to the man in the box is simple: 1. Give out the team news; 2. Say who scored; 3. Tell me if my car is about to be towed away; 4. Turn the music down; and 5. Shut up. Jon Driscoll

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This article first appeared in WSC 207, May 2004. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more details here

Photo by Simon Gill/WSC Photos: The announcer at Barnet’s Underhill stadium in 2010

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