Why don’t Arsenal “do” atmosphere?
I’m not talking about the handful of big games we play each year; against our league rivals, against our local rivals and of course against whichever Champions League elect team we fact in the last 16. Arsenal do those games pretty well, whether it’s video montages before the game, special card displays or the sweeping searchlights which have become synonymous with midweek games in Europe’s elite competition.
No, I’m talking about your run-of-the-mill weekend kick-offs against some of the lesser lights of the Premier League. That’s not to say we are alone in occasionally finding it hard to stoke the fires, but there are certainly some clubs who do it better. Clubs like Crystal Palace, for example, are renowned for always having a rousing atmosphere.
To a certain extent it is to be expected when most of the crowd turn up with a feeling of entitlement: sustained success in the early and mid-Wenger years combined with the priciest ticketing in the league has seen fans come to expect a quality and effectiveness of football beyond the norm.
The lull between trophies from 2005 to 2014 saw the atmosphere turn positively vitriolic as resources and opportunity ceased to match those expectations. It’s the same difficulty which has afflicted Manchester United since Alex Ferguson’s departure.
But other clubs with high expectations and often less success manage a better atmosphere on a more regular basis than us, and there are a few key factors in that.
I was moved to write this week’s column following the rather excellent piece by Matthew Wade back on Monday, where he talked about what he associates the club with.
I started to think about the things I associate with other clubs, and for a number of them there was one area which stood out – club anthems.
Whether it is West Ham fans blowing bubbles or Liverpool fans never walking alone, these are iconic songs which not only rouse the masses pre match, but also pervade the atmosphere in game.
[Editor’s note: The aforementioned Palace fans do a brilliant rendition of ‘Glad All Over’ to get everyone going before each game at Selhurst Park.]
Chelsea fans have their blue flags and of course Stoke have their Delilah. It doesn’t have to be a song purely associated with the club (although it helps) but it does need to be one which becomes synonymous with that allegiance.
When Arsenal first moved to the Emirates, there was a distinct je ne sais quoi lacking before each game. A shortlist of potential songs was drawn up based on fan suggestions and then in the inner machinations of the club someone somewhere made the executive decision to play Elvis’ “The Wonder of You” before kick-off. Initially this rendition was played directly before kick-off, before being downgraded to the lull after the players have returned to the dressing room approximately 15 minutes prior to the game.
A lot of opposition later, at the start of the 2013-14 season the “anthem” was unceremoniusly binned and replaced by a compilation of various songs which although pleasant enough to listen to is hardly pre match fare to get your blood pumping.
In some ways, the best pre-match feature is the music played immediately prior to the players coming out, as the clock ticks to each number in succession with quite a crash. The trouble is, it is without any words for the fans to join in with or indeed to recreate during the match.
We need an anthem selected by the fans for the fans, an anthem everyone can join in with, an anthem that builds the anticipation before each and every game.
Copy with Pride
I hate to say it, but when I’m dragged along to keep the other half company at White Hart Lane on a Sunday (hooray for Spursdays!) and “Duel of the Fates” of Star Wars fame blasts out, I can’t help but think we are a little lacking in that department.
Tottenham play that music loudly enough to shake their supporters out of whatever else they might be doing and draw their focus to the one place it matters: the pitch. And that music doesn’t even have words!
I’ve yet to visit Anfield on a matchday, but I imagine that as You’ll Never Walk Alone pipes out over the PA system it’s hard to remain too focussed on your lunch or your conversation with the person next to you. Sometimes we focus a little too much on convenience and comfort, and fail to direct people back to the real reason they are at the Emirates, which is to support The Arsenal.
It goes much wider than finding the right anthem though. Sound is part and parcel of the game we love, from pre-match anticipation to post match jubilation/recrimination (delete as appropriate) and the various crescendos and diminuendos in between. It’s important that we hit the right note and to date there have been too many issues with the Emirates acoustics.
Take the half time interiews – why is it that the PA system volume is apparently set to “mouse” when in every other stadium in the country you can practically hear the feedback screaming before they’ve even touched the microphone? Why is it that the only interview that anyone could hear very clearly last season was the one where Wrighty boomed his dulcet tones around the Emirates and called Spurs fans bastards? Clearly Jack Wilshere heard and learned a thing or two anyway!
For a club with millions at its disposal, you would hope we could have nailed the atmosphere element by now. When the fans take control for those bigger games, overriding the preprepared sound elements with pure unadulterated raucousness, the atmosphere is bouncing, but sometimes we need a little help to get to that point.
I’ve never truly understood why musical instruments are not allowed, for example. If you’re worried about people complaining about the noise, just have separate sections of the ground where different rules apply. It’s part and parcel of the experience – you wouldn’t expect to go to a concert and then complain about the noise!
So I’m not necessarily advocating the return of “The Wonder of You” but making the case for some improvements. An anthem chosen by the fans would go a long way to improving things, and a few more relaxed rules could also make a difference.
It just needs someone to recognise that there is a direct correlation between the quality of the match day atmosphere around the pitch and the success of the team on it.
Perhaps some of that £200m could be spent elsewhere?