"We are the Scousers..."- Chapter 3: 'Grounds for concern?'

Last updated : 29 August 2007 By Les Roberts

Having examined the issues of ground relocation and a sense of provincialism being prevalent within some groups of fans, this chapter aims to juxtapose the evidence of the preceding two chapters and try to explore the possible implications for such fans, and the game in general, in a time of "revolutionary change" (Taylor, 1995).

A 'common sense' view may convey the image that, due to more sanitized and comfortable conditions at grounds, an improvement in facilities would lead to an increase in fan attendance.

This is an idea which is supported by Canter et al (1989, p.26) who, after conducting a nation-wide survey of fans, found that "sixty-four per cent thought that improvements would encourage more people to go to matches. Twenty-eight per cent said that they themselves would go more often."

However, despite incorporating the views of fans from a range of clubs of "varying size, wealth, League position and location" (Canter et al, 1989 p.23), this survey only examined a total of "nearly 1,000 football supporters" (Canter et al,1989 p.23).

This means that whilst it serves to substantiate the above claim to a certain extent, it must be considered with a degree of caution as it only accounts for a very small number of football fans.

However, one possible scenario which may further corroborate this idea is that attendances may increase, initially at least, due to the novelty value of the new facility.

For example, this season (1997/1998), attendance figures at Bolton Wanderers' new Reebok stadium average out at 25,000 per week in comparison to an average of 18,000 per week last season when they still occupied their old Burnden Park site (Bolton Wanderers FC, 1998).

It remains to be seen whether this increase is due to the novelty value of the new stadium, the improved facilities or the greater capacity.

Another determinant may be the fact that the club's inaugural season at the Reebok stadium has been spent in the Premier League as opposed to the First Division which they occupied last season.

Similarly, Northampton FC officials found that, upon completing and occupying a new stadium, their gates increased by 150% (Lloyd, 1996 p.B,2).

It is likely, however, that these numbers would gradually peter off to their former level (Bale, 1993 p.142) or at least plateau.

This was evident at Northampton, although they still found that attendances at their new stadium were double the average of those at their old ground. (Lloyd, 1996 p.B,2).

Such evidence would seem to suggest, then, that relocation may be a catalyst for an increase in attendances at many new grounds.

However, there are counter arguments to this claim.

Whilst moving to an out of town site may be advantageous to those who travel to the match by car, due to improved road access, "those reliant on public transport will be worse off" (Duke, 1994 p.138) as grounds lying on the periphery of urban areas may not be part of major bus or rail routes.

However, one possible counter claim to this point could be that these public transport routes will be put in place once the new grounds are developed.

For example, Everton chairman Peter Johnson has suggested that if the club relocate then the new ground will have an adjacent purpose built railway station.

In addition, there is no guarantee that those who live further from the new site than the old one will be prepared to make the longer journey to the match.

As Canter et al (1989, p.30) found, some people who "had moved away from the vicinity of the ground…did not want to make the extra effort attending would now involve."

In other words, if people who have made the conscious choice to move away from the grounds are not prepared to travel the greater distance, would those who have unwillingly had their ground moved from them (i.e. those who don't support a move) be prepared to travel to a ground on a new site?

Although, again, this is merely the view of a percentage of a minority of football fans, there is no evidence to suggest that this is not part of the wider picture.

The following example may help to validate this claim.

It was found that SV Hamburg were "attracting lower crowds, to the tune of 5,000 spectators less per game in 1990, to its game in the out of town stadium than its less fashionable neighbours St. Pauli, who play in the inner city" (Clarke and Madden, 1993 p.471).

Although this is just one isolated example from a foreign country, it raises an interesting issue that may or may not become apparent in this country.

That is, relocation may not actually attract more fans to the game, it may, in fact, turn many away.

But why should this be the case?

One possible reason may be that the way in which club officials package the new ground and the club may not be to the liking of many of the 'traditional' working class fans.

For example, Bale (1993, p.179) forecasts that future sporting venues will be within "an environment which has emerged as a result of enclosure, artifice, segregation and confinement…straight lined and efficient but often bland and boring."

This description appears to encapsulate the feelings of one journalist's experience of possibly one of the most modern sporting landscapes, the Amsterdam Arena, as outlined earlier in this report.

That example also cited how many fans felt out of touch with the way in which the game was packaged at this new ground, something "which is, for better or worse, only dimly recognisable as the experience of going to a football match." (Smith, 1996 p.F,1).

This is something which Bale (1993 , p.179) considers will "attract the discriminating consumer rather than the committed fan".

In other words, instead of retaining it's status as working class entertainment and 'the people's game', football will become a saleable product directed at a consumer market.

This may result in clubs winning back their lapsed supporters but there may also be an influx of so-called 'new fans'.

This is something that may already be happening at certain new grounds.

For example, an author writing in Stadium and Arena International (January, 1996 cited in GFE, 1997 p.B,4) cites how Huddersfield's new McAlpine Stadium appears to be attracting a 'new breed' of fan.

The following caption appeared next to pictures of Huddersfield's old ground and their new one: "Old ground and 'old' fans, Huddersfield Town, 1993. New breed of fans attending matches, McAlpine stadium, 1995." (GFE, 1997 p.B,4).

On the one hand, some may feel that this can only be good for the game.

For example, it was outlined in chapter one that some think that the game is being marketed to "another kind of customer" (Hargreaves, 1991 p.115). and, as Canter et al (1989, p.37) observe, it is "the more fickle and less easily pleased crowds who can fill the stadium, on the right occasions" who must be enticed back to the game.

This 'new customer' appears to be akin to Bale's (1993, p.179) "discriminating consumer" and this evidence serves to further corroborate the idea that the game may be taken away from it's more committed supporters.

This is something which may have serious implications for fans feelings of identity and will be discussed later in this chapter. For now, however, the implications for the game at large will be discussed.

Such implications may not only contain serious reverberations for the fans discussed in chapter two, but it is also important for the aims of this study to look prospectively at the implications of relocation.

If then, as outlined, clubs were able to attract a 'new breed' of fan, then it may be the case that these clubs would be better off financially.

For example, if attendances do rise as a result of the new facility, this, added to potentially inflated admission charges, should ensure large gate receipts.

In addition, further revenue may be obtained "if the new stadium attracts more affluent spectators in the more expensive seats, who will spend more money at the new club merchandizing outlets" (Duke, 1994 p.138).

Whist it may not be strictly true that more affluent spectators will spend more money on club merchandise, it is certainly the case that wealthier fans will be in a better position, and therefore, perhaps, more likely, to spend money on club paraphernalia.

Similarly, as the club would own a large proportion of the land surrounding the ground and be situated in a less densely populated inner city area, this would all but eliminate competition from shops and local street traders and ensure that any money from the sale of merchandise, food or drink would go directly to the club.

However, if these 'new fans' are not 'turned on' by what they see and the 'old fans' feel that the club has lost touch with them, this could have serious implications for the game.

If clubs do move to isolated out of town sites and find that they are not attracting the crowds, directors could find their club spiralling into debt as they cannot generate the funds needed to pay for relocation.

The fact that clubs may, therefore, be unable to afford the upkeep of their ground may see conditions degenerate to their former levels (as outlined in chapter one).

This, in turn, may lead to some fans once again leaving the game in favour of the many other leisure pursuits at their disposal, described by Rippon (1983, p.191) in chapter one.

As a consequence, not only may some of the bigger clubs be crippled financially, but many of the smaller clubs may actually go out of business.

If this scenario was to occur then it is quite possible that the game could go bankrupt and, not only would those who felt a strong sense of place identity have lost their 'shrine', but many will also have lost their club and the game they love.

This leads to an issue touched upon at the end of chapter two.

Having established that some fans do feel a strong sense of place identity and this is a feeling which they project onto their favoured teams 'home' ground, what are the implications for such fans when their club relocates?

One possible outcome is that people will transfer their feelings of localism onto the new ground, as some fans have suggested will be the case if Everton relocate, "after a year or two it will become home." (Speke From The Harbour, Issue 16, 1996 p.1).

However, as outlined in chapter two, a great deal of this sense of place is built up around familiarity and nostalgia and, whilst this is a possible outcome, it would take time for these feelings to be generated.

Time in which many may feel that they have lost this identity and sense of belonging. Perhaps the most obvious suggestion, then, would be that once the club has moved, not only from the old ground but in many cases away from the immediate area, fans who experience this sense of place identity will lose this and, therefore, part of the attraction of going to the game.

This, in turn, may be a factor which contributes to the possible scenario of lower attendances at new, out of town grounds and the feeling amongst some fans that their club has lost touch with them.

Another possible outcome of this loss of identity may be an increase in hooligan activity.

Theoretically, new, all-seater grounds should be safer places for fans than their predecessors were, as Lord Justice Taylor asserted "sitting for the duration of the match is more comfortable than standing. It is also safer." (HMSO, 1990 p.12).

However, this may not be strictly true as, for example, if trouble did break out, it would be more difficult to escape from the situation in the confines of a seated stand than in the relative freedom of a terraced one.

Nevertheless, it appears to be generally accepted that seated stands are safer then terraces.

One suggestion for this is the idea raised in chapter one that "it's harder to be a hooligan sitting down" (Hill, 1975 cited in Taylor, 1995).

In addition, Canter et al (1989, p.42) have also suggested that "seats are seen as typically safer than terraced 'ends'…Sitting is typically more expensive than standing at matches and we would therefore expect that people of a higher socioeconomic status would be likely to sit."

Therefore, as hooligans are generally accepted to be from a low social grouping, the fact that seats and comfort may attract a 'higher class' of fan to the game should ensure that hooliganism is curbed, as there would be fewer fans present from lower social backgrounds.

This is supported by the linking in chapter two of this report of hooliganism and identity.

In other words, as hooliganism may have stemmed from an assertion of territoriality, if this sense of place is lost, or even surpressed, then hooliganism may be marginalised.

However, as stated above, the other side of the coin is that relocation may actually lead to an increase in hooligan activity as fans try to re-assert their identity in their new surroundings.

It has been suggested that one possible cause of hooliganism at football grounds is the sense of alienation felt by some fans and the affluence of modern footballers somehow produces "an unbridgeable gulf between footballers and their fans" which can manifest itself in outbreaks of hooligan violence (Walvin, 1975).

Although now over two decades old, this statement should still ring true, especially in a time when players average salaries are over £200,000 per year, a figure which amounts to "nearly 12 times the national average" wage (Palmer & Cassey, 16/04/98 p.4).

In other words, whilst the average worker earns around £300 per week, the average professional footballer earns in the region of £3,500 over the same period.

If this is the case then it may be said that, on a financial level at least, there is still a great divide between spectators and players.

This is a feeling amongst some, which may be extenuated by the perceived 'rock and roll' lifestyle, to coin a phrase, of some of today's players.

In theory, this difference, coupled with the fact that many fans may feel that their identity is being demolished with the old ground, lead to an increase in hooligan activity.

These feelings may also be heightened by a potential increase in male chauvinist behaviour.

Hargreaves (1991, p.215) suggests that "sporting activity is one of the main ways in which a male chauvinist identity is constituted" and, in a society which places equal opportunity and political correctness in high regard, "sports compensate working class men for their subordination at the expense of working class women."

However, as outlined in chapter one, some football club officials may see relocation as an opportunity to market the game as "family entertainment".

If this were successful, it would all but eliminate any male hegemony formerly present at football grounds.

Having been robbed of their male preserve, some men may therefore resort to violence or else crude behaviour in a vulgar attempt to 'reclaim the game' as it were.

Although there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, if the linking of territoriality and hooliganism in the preceding chapter is true, then this may become a very real, if completely unintended, consequence of relocation, however unlikely it may seem.

In addition to those within the confines of the new stadiums, relocation may also have an impact on those outside.

As outlined earlier, some inner city stadiums have had small economies build up around them.

For example, at Goodison Park there are a great number of shops and pubs whose very existence is due in large to the number of fans who visit the ground, especially when Everton play at home.

The fear for many business people who own shops around this area is that if (and when?) the club move then they will become superfluous to the needs of the local community and will not be able to survive without the revenue provided by supporters of the football club, albeit "only on approx' 24 days of the year" (Burns, 1997 p.C2).

A similar situation arose in the United States when the LA Rams moved from the Coliseum in Watts to a new stadium in Anaheim (Bale, 1993 p.154).

In addition to the owners of the Coliseum losing $750,000 in rent, the residents of Watts lost income procured from the habitation of the Rams in their area and the sense of pride derived from having an NFL team in their district (Bale, 1993 p.154).

Although, again, this is an isolated example from a foreign country, it serves well to illustrate the point and, as relocation appears to be a relatively new phenomenon in this country, examples of abroad are sometimes the only real cases available.

However, it is not just the members of the community surrounding the old ground who may be disadvantaged. In many cases, the residents inhabiting the new site are gaining a structure they do not want.

Despite being able to provide valuable revenue for local businesses, football grounds can also be a nuisance to residents.

For example, on matchdays traffic congestion around grounds can inconvenience local car owners (Burns, 1997 p.C,9) and the general noise and rowdiness of fans can also be a vexation to citizens.

If this is true of people living in the shadow of a ground which was there long before them, why should suburban residents be expected to be any more accepting of a stadium within their vicinity?

Such opposition has been labelled 'the NIMBY effect' (Bale, 1993 p.154), that is, 'Not In My Back Yard'.

This is a slogan which is generally used by protestors who choose to oppose a project or development earmarked for their neighbourhood.

Bale (1993 p.154) suggests that "for the average resident a football stadium is viewed as a noxious facility" and, therefore, there are many examples of inhabitant's inertia to such developments in their area.

For instance, when the Everton chairman first mooted that a municipal golf course in Kirkby was his preferred location for a new stadium there was considerable opposition from Kirkby residents who received substantial coverage in the local press.

The prevailing feeling was that the golf course had "a flourishing youth section that keeps kids out of trouble in a deprived area" (Bell, 21/05/97 p.38) and the fear was that if this was sacrificed and never replaced then juvenile crime rates may increase.

Such was the feeling amongst residents that local councillors became involved and Everton officials have subsequently sought alternative sites.

This chapter has shown how relocation may affect not only those fans with a strong feeling of place identity but also those who may be inadvertently affected by a club's need for pastures new.

In addition, possible implications for the clubs involved and the future of the game have also been speculated.

Whilst these may not be wholly accurate or entirely probable it must be stressed that it is impossible to predict the outcome of such upheavals within the game, particularly when it is considered that there have been no such happenings since the games infancy at the turn of the century. This is something which will be discussed more in the concluding comments of this report.