Coupled with a letter in the estimable Northern Ventures Northern Gains in which the writer complained that the noise of barking dogs during an earlier match at Shields had left him with a splitting headache, this sparked recollections of an encounter at The Riverside back in the days of Steve McClaren....
A few years ago a friend of mine came over from California. Determined to show him all the cultural riches the north-east has to offer I bought tickets in the West Stand at the Riverside Stadium, right above the half-way line. Two minutes in to a game of such excruciating dullness that at the final whistle police had to prise my fingers from my knees, I felt a tapping on my shoulder. I looked around. The tapper was an elderly man with tufts of hair sprouting from his ears and a nose as richly veined with blue as a ripe Gorgonzola. He was one of those veterans of the posh seats who attends football with a rug which he wraps around his knees, and a large tartan thermos flask containing the sort of vegetable broth that smells like a school gym after the year tens have done an hour of circuit training in it. “Can you stop leaning forward,” the tapper said.
A couple of minutes later Boro created a minor kafuffle in the opposition penalty area. The tapping came again. “Sit down,” the tapper said. “I’m not standing up,” I replied. “You are rising” the tapper said. “I am not rising,” I said, “If I was rising my buttocks would be out of the seat, and my buttocks are not out of the seat. They are on the seat. Here, you can try and stick your hands under them if you want”. This offer silenced the tapper, momentarily.
Ninety seconds passed. A corner kick arrived. Tap-tap-tap. “I’m not standing up and I am not rising, nor even in the process of thinking about rising,” I said. “Mebbe not,” the tapper said, fixing me with the look of somebody who has sprung a carefully constructed trap on a destructive rodent, “but you are definitely craning”. He had me there, and he knew it. I had craned. I was guilty of crane-age.
As I so often do in times of crisis I sought sanctuary in sarcasm, “I suppose,” I said, “You would prefer it if I crouched?” “No, there’s no need to do that,” the tapper said seriously, “But you could mebbe slouch a bit further down in your seat in future”.
About a month after this encounter, Middlesbrough fans in the south-east corner of the stadium received a letter from the chief safety officer asking them to keep the noise down. “I am receiving more and more complaints from our fans…about both the persistent standing and the constant noise coming from the back of this stand,” Sue Watson’s letter read, “Please stop, make as much noise as you like when we score, but this constant noise is driving some fans mad”.
What has happened in block 53a is that a group of fans calling themselves Red Faction have moved in with an intention of creating a more supportive atmosphere for the team – beyond, presumably, the traditional rhythmic syncopated tutting that I used to so enjoy in the Bob End when I was a nipper - and have fallen foul of the long term denizens of block 53a, who object to their habit of banging on the plastic sheeting at the back of the stand. The letter makes no mention of leaning, rising or craning, but surely a total ban on such anti-social activities can’t be far away.
Many readers may feel that if you are going to complain about crowd noise at a football match, then writing an angry letter about the fact that your view of the pitch has been severely impeded by twenty-two men in shorts who insist on running about all over it during the entire length of your visit is not far away.
The problem is surely exacerbated by the fact that the average age of those attending football matches is rising (or at least craning) ever upwards. Soon most of the grounds will be more or less entirely in the knobbly hands of the prostate generation. It will alter the game irrevocably. For a start off the interval will have to be extended to an hour just so we all have time to piddle.