Once again, the lack of atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium has come under scrutiny.
It’s been a point of argument ever since we moved from Highbury in 2006.
A number of solutions have been suggested, but each of them only tackles part of the problem, and doesn’t deal with the question the heart of the matter.
Why don’t fans want to sing at a football game?
To answer this, we need to start with the opposite question, that being “Why do fans want to sing at football games?”
Fans want to sing, and chant, and bellow, and shout, and everything else in between, because they want their team to win. Plain and simple.
Teams play better when they hear a crowd singing their name, so the crowd sings their name in the hope that the team will play better.
There’s also the sense of community that comes from singing the same song as other people.
The same can happen at a concert, festival, or at church.
If everyone is there for the same reason, and in turn are singing the same songs at the same time, then it gives the group as a whole a sense of purpose and identity. It empowers them. It gives them a reason to keep showing up week after week after week, so that they can revel in their shared identity.
But as times change, the desire in today’s society for people to establish their own identity grows larger by the day.
A brief glance at Twitter or Facebook will soon show how the desire to be known for one’s own opinions is quickly usurping the desire to be known for being associated with a group as a whole.
More and more, people are becoming more comfortable with expressing their own personal beliefs instead of just fitting in with a crowd. Once they’re there, then the “crowd think” phenomenon may kick in, but until then, people are becoming far more selfish and are putting their own needs first, over the needs of the crowd.
This is why atmospheres in some football grounds are far less hostile than at others, because there really is only one difference between the way a football game is watched in Dortmund (the standard-bearer for atmosphere in Europe right now) and the way a football game is watched in the Emirates Stadium; the people in the seats.
What’s the key difference between the people in the seats at Arsenal and in Dortmund?
That the people in Arsenal are paying an average of £50-60 per game, and the people in Dortmund are paying an average of £9 per game. The difference in price isn’t the sole factor in how people watch a game, but it’s the most influential one.
It’s only natural, that the more we spend on something, the more we expect from our purchase.
Pay £2 for a bag of chips, and you expect nothing but a bag of chips. Pay £35 for a “Ravioli of lobster, langoustine and salmon poached in a light bisque, oscietra caviar and sorrel velouté” and you expect a bit more.
The same goes for football games.
Pay £9, and you don’t mind the fact that you’re standing amongst 20,000 other fans, with little room to manoeuvre. Pay £60, and the least you’d want is somewhere to sit down. Maybe a drink as well. A decent view, too. Oh, and the team had better be good for that money.
So can you blame fans for wanting some sort of return on their money these days? Can you fault anyone for thinking that they deserve something back from their investment? Or that their financial investment is enough, and that any physical or emotional investment is something that can be withheld, up until they see what their money was spent on?
With a fan base becoming more concerned with their own individual needs over the collective, and is now expecting, instead of hoping, to see their money being put to good use, it’s no wonder that it’s getting quieter in the Emirates.
Instead of the fans turning up to help the team, it’s almost gone full circle, fans are now expecting the team to help them.
How do we fix this?
As I wrote at the start of the article, there have been many ideas floated as a way of generating atmosphere in the stadium.
One of them is to have dedicated singing sections behind each goal. That would certainly help those who are still turning up to games with the sole aim of supporting the team via any means necessary for the duration of the game.
But would it help build atmosphere as a whole in the stadium, or would it just concentrate the noise into certain pockets of the ground?
And if the singing didn’t reciprocate around the ground, what would be the reaction close to those blocks?
I’m certain that we could get 800-1000 fans to sit together and sing for every game, but would that help fill a stadium as cavernous as the Emirates?
I’m not so sure
Then there’s the most popular suggestion: Safe Standing.
If you haven’t heard about it, or want to know more details, then the Football Supporters Federation have a very informative webpage here.
In essence, the premise is the following: get more people in the ground, charge them less, put them closer together, they’ll sing more.
The premise is sound.
At least, it is in theory.
Yes, redeveloping the lower bowl of the Emirates into safe standing areas will get more people into the stadium and yes, more people would make more noise.
However, there are two rather big roadblocks for this idea to overcome.
1. The local council
The Emirates Stadium’s seating capacity is 60,272.
60,000 was the limit that Islington Council put on the stadium due to the transport infrastructure in the area.
There’s a reason why the seats in the Emirates are the widest in Europe, and it’s not because the club wanted us to be in comfort. The seats are that wide because that’s the smallest they could be in order for there to be 60,000 of them.
If we were allowed to have more seats, there would have been smaller seats.
2. Stan Kroenke
Estimates at the cost of upgrading the tube stations around the area have been put at around £50-60 million.
That would have to be met by the club before any work began on redeveloping the ground itself.
If the whole of the lower bowl’s capacity of 24,000 was converted into safe standing areas, we would gain around an extra 20,000 in capacity. (The ratio for space needed is 18 standing people per 10 seated people. 24,000 seated people = 43,200 standing people. I rounded up.)
So the Emirates would be an 80,000 capacity stadium with standing-room only on the bottom tier.
Sounds like a great way to get more people making more noise at a lesser cost to those attending the games, creating both a better atmosphere and more revenue for the club.
Who’s paying for the redevelopment?
Seeing as this is being espoused as a way to cut costs for fans, it would be pretty egregious to then raise ticket prices to pay for the building work. The government or council are definitely not going to pay for it.
That leaves one source of income available: the club itself.
Now, if you’re of the belief that the club will spend £60m of its own money in order to rebuild the stadium and the surrounding area, please turn westwards, and cup your ears.
Can you hear that? That is the sound of the city of St.Louis, Missouri, crying with laughter.
Stan Kroenke owns the St.Louis Rams, an NFL franchise.
The stadium they currently play in is a 70,000 seater domed stadium. It’s essentially a slightly smaller version of the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff, and only slightly older. But the Rams had a clause inserted into their lease of the stadium, which stated that the Rams could leave the city in 2015 if the stadium became outdated in comparison to counterparts across the country.
As of today, the arena needs a massive and hugely expensive overhaul.
Are Kroenke or the Rams funding this? Nope.
In fact, Kroenke has bought land in Los Angeles, and a city council there has pledged to build him a $2 billion stadium if he moves the team to L.A. So if the city of St.Louis wants to keep the Rams, they’re going to have to build him a new stadium there, even though taxpayers will still be paying off the bonds taken out to pay for the old stadium until 2021!
This owner is not going to spend the club’s money on stadium redevelopment. American owners don’t operate like that, just look at how Liverpool owner John Henry is funding the Anfield redevelopment: more corporate seats and higher ticket prices.
As long as the club is treated like an investment, then fans will treat the games like an investment. And the more that these financial investments influence the game, then then the more our emotional investment will shrink respectively.
The question now is, can that trend be reversed, or will the only songs that get sung come from a fat lady standing on a pile of cash?