No, we’re not having a go at the geographical disposition of United’s support, or trying to wind up the occasionally oafish Gary Neville or his professionally grumpy (and phenomenally succesful) manager. We’re actually sympathising with the club’s travelling fans …
Being refused permission to stand up at football is not something that should, in all honesty, bother me.
When the chant goes up to “Stand up if you … ” love or hate this or that, him or them, and is most commonly followed by “hate the Mags”, my heart is with the rival group that responds with “Sit doon if you hate the Toon”.
But there are times, even after rather too many decades of watching the game, when I am moved to rise to my feet because something is happening on the field to bring hope, fear or excitement – or maybe just because I need to be high enough above fans ahead of me to be able to see at all.
And my instinct is to support the Manchester United fans who have been told their persistent habit of standing will result in a ticket allocation of just 1,300 for the second last game of the season, which – ominously for us – brings them to the Stadium of Light. This contrasts with a minimum of 3,000 to which United would ordinarily be entitled to expect.
The row in chronicled at the United fans’ site, The Republik of Mancunia, under the headline” “Are Sunderland having a laugh?”
Scores of comments follow. Some contain mindless abuse or insults aimed at Sunderland or our fans. Some make valid points. And SAFC fans are among those who were happy to agree with the proposition that United are being unfairly treated.
Paul Weir, the safety officer at the SoL, is quoted by the site as saying: “Unless there is some change in current thinking, persistent standing remains a breach in the ground regulations. We are duty bound to encourage people to sit in our all seater stadium in consideration of spectator safety and comfort.”
Republik of Mancunia, while erroneously claiming there are 12,000 empty seats at every Sunderland home game (the average is just below 40,000 and the capacity is 49,000), points out that the decision is actually counter-productive, since many United fans will acquire tickets in home areas and therefore mix with Sunderland supporters.
It also says fans in the home areas at Sunderland “are guilty of persistent standing, although the club are apparently happy to keep dishing out tickets to them”.
Of course, United fans have no monopoly on being penalised for standing and Sunderland supporters are not exempt from failures by clubs to apply the rules even-handedly. Wear Down South, the newsletter of the London branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association, points that that stewards at Arsenal seemed to notice only our fans on their feet, not Gooners.
But I find myself on the side of United’s supporters. I hope many more than 1,300 are allowed to watch from the away end (though I naturally hope that they leave disappointed with the result).
I find the safety argument dificult to accept. And even if some minor additional risk of injury is somehow involved, it is diffiult to quarrel with Republik of Mancuina’s central point:
“Does this(the reduced allocation) mean there will only be 1,300 United fans in the ground? Of course not. We will get in the ground one way or another although that will create a greater threat to spectator safety and comfort.”
Over to you, Mr Weir and the city council. Rid football of this petty bureaucracy.
* With thanks to “terry6082 Books” from the image, from his Flickr pages