And the answer is “not very much”.
Last night a team of unknowns wearing the colours of Manchester United (OK – see comments – I stand corrected: a team including relative unknowns) beat Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup quarter-finals.
On TalkSport this morning, the atmosphere at Old Trafford was described in anxious tones as having been like that of a practice match. Which, we suppose, is an improvement on the morgue it sometimes resembles in the home ends.
I’d always imagined it had something to do with what “home” meant to Manchester United supporters. Malaysia, Donegal, Scandinavia, Africa …. you get the drift. People on package tours making their first visits to North West England, which they could barely place on a map.
Roy Keane thought it had something do with the “prawn sandwich brigade”, by which he was trying to imply that prawn sandwiches were posh nosh. But I’m sure some of the United fat cats have been heard to sing a bit, if only snatches of arias or the sort of song favoured by Tory party conferences.
But Sean, a caller to TalkSport, had the answer. It’s all because the fans are not allowed to stand up. Alone in the world of football, United supporters have a physical condition that prevents them from singing when in a seated position.
I mock only because Sean chose to amplify his point by saying the wooden-topped stewards did, in fact, allow standing for “big matches’ such as those against Liverpool or Barcelona. It was against the likes of “Stoke or Sunderland” that season ticket holders were chucked out or threatened with being chucked out if they broke into voice (breaking into voice necessarily meaning, as a function of that medical complaint, standing up).
That was sort of insulting, though Sunderland fans can certainly recall trips to Old Trafford where we might have been forgiven for thinking ourselves the home team, so quiet have been the natives (even if the natives were matched in numbers by folk from others parts of the world).
Sean was right also to say that United fans who travel to away games are a different proposition, always taking their full allocation and invariably in good voice. But surely they also encounter overzealous stewarding at away grounds. Or it is just easier to ignore when you’re a visiting fan? I seem to recall United’s Stadium of Light allocation being cut as a result of their insistence on standing during the games.
I am in two minds. My natural inclination when Sunderland fans away from home sing “Stand up if you hate the Mags” is to join the rival chant “Sit down if you hate the Mags”, but that has more to do with age than anything else. On the other hand, if making people sit when they want to stand ruins the atmosphere at a game, we may as well change the game to Scrabble or bowls. I am not convinced any serious safety issues exist; it sounds more like football bureaucracy gone mad.
What do others think?