Fans of football teams around the world pride themselves on the ferocity of their support, best represented by the noise at their home games often acting like a 12th man, winning close decisions or sucking the ball into the net. They are also quick to criticise opposition supporters.
‘Where’s your famous atmosphere’ is a chant that is heard from time to time at Anfield when the home support is not living up to their reputation of best fans in the world.
Roy Keane was not shy in coming forward to criticise the home support at Old Trafford in his infamous prawn sandwich brigade broadside at the middle class bandwagon jumpers he perceived to be killing the atmosphere at home games.
Arsenal’s now defunct Highbury was famously known as the Library which was made even funnier by their use of hoardings depicting a packed stand during their redevelopment. The Emirates has done little to banish that reputation.
One league which does not seem to suffer from a lack of atmosphere is the Bundesliga. Witness here the noise and atmosphere generated by Borussia Dortmund fans at a reserves match. That’s right you read correctly, a reserves match..
So what is at the root of the problems with the atmosphere at some Premier League grounds? Note that not all clubs suffer from this malaise, Stoke City and Cardiff are two clubs that buck the trend. Some pundits put it down to the removal of terraces others maintain that it is the changing socio economic makeup of the crowds. Tickets to games have gotten prohibitively expensive for the working class core whom have made up the bulk of clubs traditional support. It is now mostly the non-traditional middle class fan that could afford to go to matches. Clubs have become multi million and in some cases billion pound corporations. How have Bundesliga clubs avoided this problem? The answer to this question may lie in the form of club ownership that operates in Germany.
German football clubs have a 51% stake which is held by a supporters trust, this means that they are genuine clubs in the true sense of the word, controlled and operated by their members. This has kept ticket prices down and given supporters a real sense of ownership over their clubs. The focus on homegrown talent has had the add on effect of benefiting the national team and has seen a flood of young talented players emerge in Germany from the Bundesliga academies that developed at the same time as the new system of ownership. The creation of the Premier League as a separate entity to the Football League means that introducing this system in England would be problematic to say the least.
It may require a massive economic collapse for the system to reset itself or massive efforts on the behalf of clubs to reconnect with their traditional base by cutting the costs for the average fan.
In the age of multi billion pound TV deals and hyper inflated contracts the former may, unfortunately, be more likely. A simpler solution may be dedicated standing and singing sections which would show the supporters that the clubs recognise the important role that they play in driving the team to success. Stoke City have promised to provide free bus travel for all fans travelling to away games. Initiatives like this show the way for other clubs to step up and show some love for their fans.