Salut! Sunderland‘s spot of innocent fun on how to keep Alan Hutton at the Stadium of Light attracted nearly three times as many people to the site as will be allowed into the away end when we play Man Utd on May 9. All because United fans like to stand. Let us weigh up the arguments …
One thing needs to be clear. I’d prefer Manchester United to win the title. But success for Chelsea is a price I will happily pay for seeing Sunderland beat United as convincingly as we are able in our final home game.
Unlike many football supporters, I do not dislike Man Utd.
It is much more global brand than proper football club, some of its supporters are unbearably arrogant and it would be charitable to say that only traces of that arrogance appear to exist in the manager’s office and dressing room.
But Sir Alex’s achievements cannot be regarded fairly as anything short of magnificent and the team has often played exhilarating football that brings credit to the Premier League.
It is true that at Old Trafford, United supporters sometimes seem curiously drawn to the approach of Trappist monks to opening the mouth and releasing sound. But the travelling support is different. It is always in hearty voice and it invariably likes to stand.
As a result of this well-known preference, United’s allocation of tickets for the game at Sunderland has been cut from the usual minimum of 3,000 to 1,700.
Despite an appeal by United, SAFC says the decision has been confirmed by a local safety advisory group following the refusal of United supporters to heed warnings over persistent standing on previous visits to the SoL.
As I said when I first wrote about this decision – Manchester United: a standing joke – I tend to side with the Sunderland fans whose response to “Stand up if you hate the Mags” is “Sit doon if you hate the Toon”.
At home games, the urge to stand is non-existent, however exciting the match, unless movement in the rows below obscures what is going on. But in common with most fans, I am often driven to my feet at away games. The need to see is often the motivating factor, because of inadequate visibility or the generally more enthusiastic nature of the support, but it always seems a fairly harmless thing to do.
Rules lose meaning and moral justification if they are not applied consistently.
But it is difficult to quarrel with the argument of the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association (IMUSA) that the blindingly obvious reality – United fans buying tickets from Sunderland fans and sitting in home areas – presents a significantly greater safety threat than up to 3,000 people standing in their own enclosure.
The association’s spokesman, Mark Longden, is quoted as saying: “The safety argument is spurious at best. This could be an absolutely pivotal game, so there will be many more than 1,700 United fans travelling to Sunderland. They will just buy tickets from the home fans.
“In 1996, we went to Middlesbrough on the final day of the season and their fans were selling their season tickets for £200-300 to United fans.
“What is to stop the Sunderland fans doing the same next week? They could pay for next year’s season ticket from the proceeds and then watch the game in the pub.”
Salut! Sunderland‘s pages are open, on this question as on any other, to official responses and opposing views. But nothing I have read so far removes the suspicion that that a sledgehammer is being used for the task of cracking a nut, and that this may heighten the risk of another kind of nut being cracked on May 9.
* With thanks to Paolo Camera for his Flickr image.
* NB: a recent deluge of spam means comments from people who have not been this way and posted before will have to await moderation. Sorry.