Taking the stand

Confessions of a Brentford fan who sometimes defies the stewards.

Patrick West
Columnist

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  • Sit Down Shut Up II

Ahh, the return of the football season. The excitement, the camaraderie, the raw passion.

Well, not exactly. The football season actually kicked off 10 days ago, and its pervading ethos is less Stand Up If You Love Your Team and more Sit Down Shut Up.

Premiership-obsessed fans may not have noticed that the Nationwide Football League actually kicked off two Saturdays ago. I travelled with Brentford fans to watch the boys in red and white face Huddersfield away at the McAlpine Stadium. This gave me the delightful experience of bumping into stewards even more ridiculous and unpleasant than those found at Reading last season. Last year, some may remember, I was almost ejected from Reading’s Madejski Stadium for smoking a cigarette.

On the first day of this season a friend of mine was ejected from the McAlpine stadium before half time for ‘repeatedly standing up’. When I remonstrated with the steward responsible for this, he waved his finger in my face, warning that he’d been keeping an eye on me too. I was ‘skating on thin ice’.

Yes, I had kept ignoring the stewards to tell me to sit down; for that I plead guilty. But so did loads of others, because we’d paid money to go to a football game, not the opera. You get carried away with the game; you want to rouse the team’s spirits by standing and chanting.

The stewards were particularly keen on ejecting people who were only in small groups, such as my friend, but rather reluctant to deal with a bigger group of rougher-looking persistent standers at the back. ‘We’ll chuck them out one by one in the second half’, another steward promised me.

Well, no, actually, they didn’t. The stewards instead mysteriously vanished with 20 minutes to go, by which time practically everyone was standing up (we were, after all, 2-0 up). This disappearing act was hardly surprising, given the antagonistic atmosphere they had created. The police, meanwhile, looked rather fed up with the entire situation.

In the 1980s, clubs used to treat fans like animals. Today they treat us like children. Sit down, shut up, don’t smoke.

  • Return of the ghouls

The episode of the two murdered Cambridgeshire girls is indeed upsetting. That photograph of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Manchester United shirts is particularly haunting. Chapman, on the right, wears a rather serious, contemplative expression on her face, as if she was older than her years.

It has also been pointed out that the public reaction to the affair has been quite disturbing, too. I was at another football game last Saturday when news came through on radios that two bodies had been found. People started ostentatiously relaying this news to each other, with gasps of horror and apparent concern. This was pretty contemptible. It’s almost as if people actually welcomed the tragedy, to give them an opportunity to prove to strangers how compassionate they are.

Five years ago this month, we had a similar experience with the death of Princess Diana. Many of us said then that the mass grieving was inauthentic. Five years on, Diana has been forgotten. Where now are all those thousands who went to Buckingham Palace to wail? They have failed spectacularly to honour anniversaries of her death since. Unlike Elvis Presley’s, her place of burial has not become a popular shrine. The debate over her memorial has been of little interest.

Instead, the same people simply latch on to different horrors now. I feel very sorry for the residents of Soham, yet counsellors in Cambridgeshire have received calls from people from all over the world who have been distressed by the event. Sure, many people are probably very miserable, but it seems fairly rotten to use the death of two girls as an excuse to give vent to one’s unhappiness.

In five years’ time something else horrible will happen and the mourning ghouls will be at it again, the memory of Holly and Jessica erased from their memories.

  • The Vertigo Crew

Out this autumn, the shocking new video: Standing on the Terraces (Gash Videos, £15.99). It features graphic and gruesome coverage of fans actively and blatantly standing up in some of Britain’s best-known football grounds.

It also contains interviews with some of this country’s most notorious standing hooligans. ‘Yeah, I think it was just the sheer buzz, the togetherness, the sense of danger that first attracted me’, says Dave, a long-standing standing hooligan for the Brentford ‘Vertigo Crew’. ‘At first we were just kind of getting out of our seats every two minutes. By the time I was 19 I was standing up all the time. Oh, it was great. Old Trafford back in ’95 – talk about larging it! Stretford Council even put cushions on the seats to tempt us. They must of thought we were some kind of Muppets.’

Another Vertigo veteran, Colin, reminisces: ‘We used to organise meetings with the Cardiff “Knee Trembler Squad” in car parks. We’d stand up together for ages, comparing walking sticks and Zimmer frames. But we got done over by a grass and the coppers rumbled us.’

According to the video, since the famous Elland Road standing catastrophe of 1998, when 40,000 people collectively got aching backs from standing up for 90 minutes, there has been a massive clampdown on standing hooliganism. Recent events, however, have led to the fear that it may be on the rise again. There is a new breed of raw, unprincipled Young Turks who will stand for hours without shame or feeling for law-abiding aficionados of chairs, sofas and plastic seats.

‘These people are sub-human scum’, says Mike Stool, head of the Leicester Institute For Research On Sub-Human Scum. ‘How would they like it if they got sore knees?’

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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