5 Steps towards Improving Atmosphere in Stadia without compromising safety or spending a fortune:
- Safe Standing: Celtic recently applied to be allowed to install a ‘safe standing’ area to improve the atmosphere at Celtic park (and to meet fan demand) and this was shamefully rejected by the city council (http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/28777621). Safe standing, such as rail seats, gives supporters the option of standing up at the football without impeding the view of others and causing annoyance. It’s not for everyone and should be confined to specific parts of the stadium but ask yourself how often you see a choir performing sitting down. Standing in seated areas is actually far more dangerous due to the trip hazard of the seat in front. Manchester United introduced singing areas but they are seated! I suppose they are less likely to consume the half-time langoustines without a seat!
Allowing ‘flare areas’: I love seeing flares being set off in the stands or terraces. It just raises excitement levels. My proposal would be that fans could buy approved flares from the club and have them set off at pre-arranged times or, say, after the first goal, by a club employee. The flares could be set off in a confined space within the stand, perhaps at the front. This could only take place in certain pre-defined parts of the ground but it would prevent the illegality of smuggling pyrotechnics and perhaps prevent incidents like Igor Akinfeev being hit with a flare which caused Montenegro v Russia to be abandoned http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/32096292. That way, a fan can have a flare set off without having to touch it him/herself.
- Encourage flags/banners/tifos: As long as a ‘tifo’ is lifted by kick off, it can help create atmosphere. The recent ‘Red or Dead’ banner at Standard Liege – love it or loathe it – created an atmosphere that ultimately worked in their favour as Steven Defour became frustrated and was (rather unfortunately) sent off. Flags and banners give fans a voice and an identity beyond being a paying spectator and add colour and diversity to the spectacle.
- Stop booking players for running to the ground/taking their shirt off: Sometimes I feel like the game has been sanitized to the extent that its soul is being ripped out – it is not tennis! We do not wheel out Cliff Richard because it is raining. We do not ‘tut’ or shake our heads disapprovingly when a player shows genuine emotion, whether it is excitement, frustration or whatever. These human qualities endear players to the fans and seeing a player run to the fans is an expression of ‘being in it together’, fighting for the same cause. A connection between players and fans encourages the fans to give their all during the match, creating the atmosphere that can inspire their team. The continued attempt at gentrifying football via elevated ticket prices is bad enough but expecting footballers to behave like Fred Perry and fans to whet their whistles with strawberries and alcohol-free Pimm’s is not what the fans want!
- Allow the sale of alcohol at football matches: Firstly, this reduces the need for people to get ‘tanked up’ before the game, reducing binge drinking. It also means people are far more likely to sing – karaoke seldom seems like such a great idea in sobriety – and enhance the stadium atmosphere. I know this depends on the country having a respectful and liberal view towards alcohol but there is a reason the dance floor fills up at a party.
Passionate and vocal fans should not be criminalized and they are not necessarily more predisposed towards violence or vandalism. If they are encouraged and given an outlet then, they can be a massive boon to they club.