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Here's a question for you; how should you behave when riding a mechanical bull? What is the correct social etiquette? You don't know do you? This was what was concerning me one night in a bar in Arizona; a bar with a mechanical bull in the middle of the floor. People would get up onto the creature which would spring into life and with a fearful exhortation of creaking joints and whirring mechanics, it would buck around until the sad, drunk man fell off to general, if steadily decreasing, amusement as the night progressed.
Then this woman came in dressed like Cher in the 'Turn Back Time' video. You know what I'm talking about, right? It's all fishnets and bike jackets and legs that go right up the ying yang. She has all of the assets traditionally desired by the superficial male. The night is looking up. She proceeds to mount the bull and, as it whirred in to life, gripped it between her powerful thighs and held on for grim death, all the while whooping and hollering, urged on by her girlfriends. The unruly machine could not dislodge her.
I thought this was magnificent - who wouldn't, right? But it was an unpopular display with the locals. Many there who thought this was simply an inappropriate way for a woman to behave. She was too wild. No-one should be riding on their damn bull wearing little more than a pair of stockings and a bike jacket. On top of this crime she was clearly having a good time with her buddies. God forbid a woman should get her buzz on in public in such a way.
What this showed me is that there are different acceptable ways to behave in public. Such ways not always easy to predict and they change over the years too. At an English football ground it has certainly changed.
In the attendance peaks of the post-war years, you wore a flat cap, possibly had a wooden rattle and some sort of lung infection. The Pathe news reels show people tightly packed and yet somehow looking very polite and cheerful. Perhaps having just seen hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens slaughtered in the war, being a whiney, moaning sod at a football game seemed a little inappropriate.
Into the 60s and 70s and this polite, rather neat and tidy crowd gave way to a seething mass of hairy loonies, keen to get on the pitch if possible, and even more keen to remove your kidneys with a brick. This was when I started to go to football. It was thrillingly exciting and also pant-wettingly frightening. The grounds were noisy and irreverent.
The 80s saw the violence develop even more and the fun decrease markedly. Then came seating which was just as well as the country was getting fatter and fatter and couldn't stand up for long. People went to games in replica shirts - something they didn't do in the 60s and 70s because no such thing as the official replica shirt, complete with sponsor and corporate logo designed by someone who eats sunflower seeds and wears wonky glasses, existed. And yet no-one was any the less happy about it.
Today, football grounds in England have never been safer and more sanitised. This has largely been thought to be A Good Thing after all those years of having to dodge bricks and men with 'Insanity Beast' tattooed on their forehead. Now you can sit there eating your energy dense fast food, getting fatter and fatter in silence, without anyone disturbing you. If they do disturb you, you can get a steward to remove them, at least in theory.
After all the heinous behaviour of the 70s and 80s, the generation that went through those years might have felt this was something of a blessed relief. But now we have a generation of football fans who only know the sanitised, sitting, replica shirt regime. It's normal to them. Admittedly they probably can't afford to go to see many games (the average age for fans is in the 40s) but all the same.
Even former citadels of noise and fury such as Anfield are at times so quiet that you can hear the managers barking out instructions - and who wants to hear Brendan Rodgers shouting 'C'mon lads, decreased attention to electrolyte balance can only inhibit our deliverance schedules' as he offers his players a bottle of Lucozade?
Old Trafford can be almost unbelievably silent too. It's hard to get 75,000 people to be that quiet en masse but somehow, they manage it. Arsenal's ground is a magnificent sporting facility but at times it would appear everyone is absorbed in doing some especially tricky Intarsia knitting, so quiet and self-absorbed does it seem.
The last two England games were, quite typically, punctuated by long periods of near silence from the crowd, despite the importance of the match. Maybe people can't leave their phones alone and are constantly distracted by life and people who are elsewhere. Perhaps this ongoing desire to document your life rather than live it has become a form of pernicious cultural preoccupation even at football matches.
The culture of football watching has changed from essentially being proactive to being reactive. It used to be the case that the fans would see their job as motivators and quite literally as supporters of their team. Today we wait to be entertained and then respond, just as we would if watching the TV. In fact, I've seen many reports of other fans complaining about fans who do want to be noisy - just as you would if someone started shouting in a cinema.
It's got so bad that Manchester United are considering introducing a singing section of some 1,500 leather-lunged souls. They had their first outing against Real Sociedad. I'm sure Arsenal would worry such noise might lower the nearby house prices as it seems to be the only thing anyone in London can talk about. Still in North London, Spurs manager Andre Villas-Boas was bemoaning another related phenomenon - that of the bitching and moaning crowd creating a bad atmosphere by getting on the players' backs. This isn't unique to Spurs, that low mumble of grumpiness is a commonplace thing.
This might be an English thing. If you watch any European football you will routinely see football games played in what we might call old-fashioned atmospheres, in Germany particularly. Time and again vigorous home and away support on European nights seems to surprise commentators more used to the somnambulism of a Premier League game.
The Premier League is always keen to vaunt its own magnificence but as a product - and that's how they see it - its hugely diminished by atmosphere-less grounds and crowds who are apparently bored ( if understandably) by what they're seeing much of the time. But in an era where for entertainment we have TV programmes of people watching TV, it's perhaps unsurprising that we have become a culturally reactive nation, more interested in eating and looking at our phones.
Or maybe we should just install mechanical bulls to liven up the atmosphere? If so, don't let your girlfriend ride it while dressed as Cher. That's just wrong, apparently.
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I remember talking to an eastern european fan years ago, "the difference is when you guys go to a stadium, the stewards and police own the stands, when we go to the stadium, we own the stand." Best home fans in Britain? generally have singing sections, Rangers, Celtic and I want to give crystal palace's section a mention as well. I laughed my head off a few years ago when I heard of an "Ultras" section in England, but everytime I see them on TV their fans are excellent. Looking forward to the trip in a weeks time! Other than them 3 I can't think of any club that consistently has a good atmosphere at home, Stoke used to be really good, first season in the prem when I visited I was so impressed. If you want a good atmosphere, go to away games, but if the clubs do singing sections ( I actually don't like this, I think it should be an over 16's section) it would have a positive effect if done correctly as all these away fans would be together at home. Ask Rangers and Celtic fans, Blue order (sang non stop when I went up there to watch them play east fife, an they won 5-0 and didn't shut up) and the green brigade have changed the atmosphere up there. I would love to see something similar at Goodison.- marlostanfield