There was a time when opposition fans were too scared to come to Old Trafford in any significant numbers due to the knowledge that United fans were famously inhospitable towards visiting supporters. If you ever watch a re-played United match from the 1970s on ESPN classic or ITV4, that was played at Old Trafford, you’ll notice that when the opposition score, there’s virtual silence in the ground. Friends of mine who remember Old Trafford in the 1970s say that while the football wasn’t to the standard we’re used to nowadays, the atmosphere at for United home games was colossal.
I went to my first United match in March 1981, it was a 2-1 victory against a championship challenging Ipswich Town who were managed by the late Bobby Robson. I became an Old Trafford regular in season 82/82 and one the first things I noticed was when the oposition scored, there’d be a tiny pocket of supporters on the Scoreboard terrace just below J & K stands celebrating. In them days, the only teams that would bring any decent amount of travelling support would be Liverpool, City, Newcastle United and Sunderland. The likes of Arsenal, Tottenham or Everton would bring good numbers if their teams were doing well otherwise, they’d be lucky to fill out two pens on the scoreboard terrace (1500 approx). I remember the atmosphere at Old Trafford in them days being lively due to the fact that people and more importantly, kids, could pay £1.10 on the gate of the Stretford End terrace, £1.30 on the Stretford End seats (E stand) or the Stretford End Paddock which cost £1.20. You had to be at the ground for 1PM at the very latest or you weren’t getting in. It didn’t really matter who United were playing, the atmosphere would build up over the two hours preceeding the match so when the teams emerged from the old tunnel in the middle of the main stand, the ground would be rocking. Nowadays, the ground is normally 4/5s empty half an hour before kick off so unless United are playing Liverpool or City, the atmosphere is more subdued.
(Above)The Stretford End turnstiles with no queue’s means either 3 hours or 3 minutes before kickoff.
(Right)The Stretford End pre match in the early 1980s, notice how it’s full while the C & D stand on it’s right hand side are virtually empty >>>
When Martin O’Neill took over as Aston Villa manager in the summer of 2006, one of the first things he decreed was that the away fans should be moved from Witton End of the ground and into the Witton Lane stand, left pitchside to where the away fans used to be. At Newcastle, away fans are that high up in the stand that I swear you can nearly see Scotland on a clear day at the Sports Direct Arena (touché). At Goodison Park, opposing fans were moved from the Park End many years ago and placed into the Upper Bullens stand. I can reel off a whole host of examples but the main point is, when these changes were made, supporters of the respective clubs weren’t lamenting the re-organisation as the death knell of the grounds atmosphere. The whole reason for these changes was to give the home fans the premium seat in the ground.
There’s an experiment taking place next month at Old Trafford for the United home match against Aston Villa where, the visiting fans are going to be placed into the top tier of the United road/North/Sir Alex Ferguson stand. Recently I’ve heard what I believe to be a lot of melodramatic nonsense about the adverse affects that this experiment and it’s probable end result is going to have on the atmosphere at Old Trafford. A lot of matchgoing reds that I like and respect are saying that it’s going to ruin the atmosphere at Old Trafford. The first thing I noticed was the concern over the demise of the self celebrated K-Stand top left. From where I sit in the old B-Stand (South stand) I see pockets of reds in the K top left making gestures and shouting retorts to opposing fans but the devastating wit and repartee that I’m always reading about in UWS is inaudible to me 100 yards away.
The other thing about the worry of the adverse affect on the Old Trafford atmosphere is the belief that opposing fans provide some sort of bouncing post to a great atmosphere at Old Trafford. To me, that is abslolute bollocks . When the atmosphere was bouncing in the stretty in the 1980s and the opposing fans that had bothered turning up were at the opposite end of the ground, what was the provocateur for the atmosphere then if we’re so reliant on them being in close proximity ? What about when United played Barcelona in 1984 and the atmosphere was like nothing I heard before or since ? There must’ve been a maximum of 50 Barca fans in the stadium that night. It’s actually quite embarassing that United fans claim to need opposing fans nearby to rouse an atmosphere. Apart from showing a lack of imagination, something I’ve always believed United fans have had in abundance, can anybody tell me what inspiration a load of wooden heads like fans of Stoke, Wigan or Blackburn Rovers provide to creating a good atmosphere ?
Written By Murph on ManUtdFansBlog
The atmosphere (or distinct lack of it) is becoming an ever more popular topic of discussion. Relocating the travelling fans, introducing standing areas, lower ticket prices; are just a few suggestions how to regenerate the special Old Trafford atmosphere that I remember, and as Murph alluded to, especially the 1984 night fixture vs Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup. I believe that the change in demographic of the Old Trafford crowd means that special atmosphere will never return to Old Trafford and nor will the opportunity for kids to ‘get the bug’ and form a pure love affair they carry with them for the rest of their lives.
It’s not for me to point fingers at certain types of fan, if I did I’m sure I’d hear that same old retort about how all fans love the club equally yadda yadda yadda. But take the average crowd pre-1990 it was packed full of Dads and Lads, a few with a drink in them, many there with friends, all eager to sing their hearts out to cheer on and support the team NO MATTER WHO WAS PLAYING FOR US.
In the years since the atmosphere has steadily declined to what it is today. Yes all-seater stadiums don’t lend themselves to great atmosphere’s but it certainly isn’t entirely to blame. The crowd has doubled since the 1980’s and yet twenty years on we’re not creating any kind of atmosphere at all despite the unbelievable success achieved in that time. How many people sit directly next to friends or in a group now? I doubt there’s many. I doubt there’s many people who even know the name of the person next to them any more.
The day pink scarves were sold outside the ground was the day I realised that modern day football no longer appreciated (let alone wanted) people like me and the lads I used to go to football with. It wanted families, women and children, it had a vision to rid the game of hooliganism and clean up its act…..and make some big money. Yes ridding the game of hooliganism was necessary but trouble and intimidation was a factor in creating a football atmosphere pre the mid 1990’s. Clubs know this, families spend money before, during and after the match….perfect.
You see, by replacing the very people who made the atmosphere what it was, with kids wearing half-and-half scarves (if you’re reading this and you own such a scarf, the fact you bought one and probably won’t feel the need to burn it or feel ashamed to own one after reading this strengthens my point) and pink hat & scarf wearing women, you sanitise the atmosphere, there’s more people in the crowd paying to experience the atmosphere than there are there to make it, therefore it’s inevitable there won’t be an atmosphere….just an anticipation of one and a thankfulness by some that there’s no bad language or some idiot who’s trying in vain to get the lads going by singing his heart out (that supporter is more likely to be ejected nowadays such is the nature a stewards remit) directly in front of them blocking their quaint view. Until that changes and tickets are made available to kids at the right price in the right areas of the ground instead of the only tickets available to anyone being the corporate ones, the ones you get a padded seat, a program (full of adverts and little substance) and the chance to put more cash into the coffers by having a meal and pay a minimum of £90 for, then there’s no chance on Earth the famous Old Trafford atmosphere will return and it doesn’t matter where you locate the travelling fans.
Thanks to Daniele (@mufc_dan87) for sourcing this clip that shows what we’re talking about.