Roman Abramovich's millions may have helped Chelsea to win three titles, but it's done nothing to stop Stamford Bridge from feeling like a library.
Whilst Sky’s terrible new advert, implies they ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ of the Premier League atmosphere, it is, whatever technology they implement next, the one thing they’ll never be able to recreate in your living room. You can watch the match in 3D and have replays from every angle you desire but it’ll never feel the same on your sofa as it would in the stand.
Well that’s what you’d hope anyway. However, increasingly in the Premier League, in over-stewarded, sanitised stadia, this atmosphere is being eroded and Stamford Bridge is unfortunately no different. This season, the victory over Manchester City aside – where the fans sung relentlessly throughout the game and the ground shook to its foundations at the end of the match - has been the worst in years.
The reasons for this are plentiful. For one, English football in the modern era is no longer the sole preserve of the local working man, clubs are now brands and the league is a global product and those attending reflect this. Chelsea and Arsenal, due to our proximity to London’s West End in particular, suffer/benefit (depending on your point of view) from this football tourism.
Equally, whilst these tourists may be willing to pay through the nose for a one off chance to see ‘the best League in the world’ at close quarters, it’s harder for people who have been going for years to swallow the prices it now costs to support the side week in week out in the modern game. Back to back season ticket hikes in a recession have further alienated regular supporters.
Increasingly in the Premier League, in over-stewarded, sanitised stadia, the atmosphere is being eroded and Stamford Bridge is unfortunately no different.
Furthermore, it prices out younger fans, exactly the generation who are most likely to sing for 90 minutes and create new songs when the repertoire becomes stale, as it has started to at Stamford Bridge. At Chelsea there’s already an ageing fan base, Ken Bates lost us a generation of fans in the 90s, and we’re in danger of losing another one. For all the kids you see in Chelsea shirts throughout the country, how many will be able to afford to go regularly?
Whatever their age, a large group of fans like to stand, up and down the country away fans stand for 90 minutes all game, and it’s no coincidence that the away support generally out-sing the home fans. When standing at football, fans are more inclined to sing, to support the team; the support is undoubtedly louder, the atmosphere better when the fans are on their feet. However, excessive stewarding and forcing people who want to stand up and sing to sit down or throwing them out for the slightest indiscretion is undoubtedly hindering it. On the one hand the club claims we are customers, on the other they treat us like school children.
Last week in Scotland, the SFA announced that they would allow clubs to trial ‘Safe Standing.’ Although the Premier League remain in opposition to it this side of the border, it would certainly improve the atmosphere at Chelsea and throughout the country. Some people want to stand and some people want to sit; this is fair enough, a ‘Safe Standing’ area would allow people to do both in different areas of the ground, as its success in Germany and other European countries has shown.
The issues with atmosphere at Chelsea and in English football as a whole are there for all to see, however, unless they are addressed quickly it will only get worse.
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