The other day, someone sent me a link to a video. It was one of those YouTube compilations made by some genius on their laptop and featured a fairly hefty slice of action from the early 1980’s. Not just any action mind, but Watford action. It was quite simply awesome.
But it wasn’t simply the sight of Luther Blissett and Ross Jenkins banging in goals for fun which brought such joy to my drab supporting life, it was the memories it dragged up of the so-called ‘bad old days’ of going to football.
Now no one knows better than I that to walk along memory lane you have to pass through a mental filter which removes the vast majority of bad bits but the truth is that for me and for most of the people I know, watching football in the early 80’s wasn’t that bad at all. In fact it was absolutely fantastic.
As a Watford fan the football was amazing, the travelling generally hilarious and even encounters with other fans usually provided a degree of humour. All that running away also kept me extremely fit!
Yes, I know that there is a degree of brevity in what I’ve said here but there is also a serious point and it is one which all too often seems to have been forgotten.
You see whenever talk turns to watching football in the 80’s mention is invariably made of the hooligan element and to be fair, as someone who was around at the time and who has since written a fairly reasonable amount about it, they were certainly relevant. But the reality is that not every game involved trouble and not everyone who stood behind a goal or travelled home and away was involved in violence.
Yet here we are 20 odd years later still talking about the 80’s as if every game involved mayhem on the terraces. More to the point, whilst the
popular image the modern game portrays is of one where all of the stadiums are full of happy smiling faces, the stark reality is that the history of violence is still being used to generate a fear which in turn is used as an excuse to exercise control over fans. Be that through the imposition of designated seating, the use of oppressive stewarding, alcohol bans or even the continued refusal to bring back standing inside our grounds.
This isn’t good enough. Like the industry football has now become, fan culture has moved on since the 80’s and the time has surely come to acknowledge that and consign the memories of the violent minority to history.
Yes, as a culture it still lingers in the streets outside as well as on the internet and of course everyone must be vigilant but with the risks to the individual now greater than ever, even the most hardened of idiots thinks twice if not three times before throwing a punch inside a ground.
But more to the point, by setting aside the fear of hooliganism and placing a degree of responsibility onto the shoulders of the fans –who lest we forget, actually fund the game- we might actually see a return of the one thing which seems to have gone missing in action at all too many games in recent years, atmosphere.
Because no one can be in any doubt that the atmosphere at football these days is a pale shadow of what it was back then nor can they question the simple truth that atmosphere was generated largely from amongst those who gathered together and stood behind the goals.
The imposition of designated seating was almost solely responsible for killing that and if taking what many still foolishly consider to be a backward step is the price of bringing it back, then I for one think it’s a risk worth taking.
And I don’t doubt for one second that I am the only one who thinks that.
This blog first appeared on www.totalfootballmag.com