The Evolving Nature of Fandom
I can still recall, clear as day, what it was like to walk into the old Nuttall Street Stand; the smell, the sounds and when I was lucky enough to have a pie bought for me, the flavours too. The creaks and groans from the wooden beams and staircases, the unique whiff emanating from the gents loos and the gloom around the snack bar. Even the low wattage light bulbs had a role to play, doing their bit to save a few pennies on the club’s electricity bill.
My first visits to Ewood actually were to the Riverside, sitting in the seats above that famous old terrace or more accurately on the bench seats in the wings. The admission was cheaper and frankly me wanting to go to the football was seen as a fad that would soon run its course. Not the first time, I confounded my parents with my unique take on the world and here we are more than four decades later, I’m still proving my point. Nothing if not tenacious, that’s me.
Football supporting back then seemed to be a whole lot easier though. As a kid I would have a fixture list sellotaped to the inside of the wardrobe door. Within a couple of days I would have pretty much memorised it, safe in the knowledge that fixtures would be rearranged only in the event of a postponement following bad weather or if we were to be particularly lucky, an FA Cup run.
It was cash on the turnstile, rarely a need for tickets in advance and in fact as a very small boy; it was not unheard of to be hauled up and over the stile with a modest cash adjustment (adjusted for inflation) being passed over in the other direction. This tactic seemed to work well especially at away grounds and made it more economical for me to be taken to a number of local away games. Terraces were not particularly welcoming to the diminutive me, barely able to see over the wall, so sitting in the stand was a treat that at least meant I could see the game.
I was taken to the likes of Gigg Lane, Spotland, Bloomfield Road, Deepdale and Burnden Park. Soon my tastes craved some exotic flavours and a trip to the Old Showground in Great Harwood to watch Ronnie Clayton, Bryan Douglas and Roy Vernon turn out for their new club gave my elders and betters a chance to regale me of their history and what a privilege it was to see them first hand. They were of course entirely correct, but it was a little while until I realised quite why. Some years later I would play on that very pitch in an U15s cup final* and the memories came flooding back.
Replica football kits existed even back then, but the great thing was, you could buy one shirt and have about 23 kits instantly. A red shirt with white round neck collar and cuffs was good for Liverpool, Manchester United, Barnsley, Swindon, Crewe, Doncaster and even Great Harwood if so inclined. Paired with an all white one, this opened up international options, England obviously; but also domestically, Leeds Utd, Spurs, Fulham, Millwall, Bury, Preston and so on. For a child with a vivid imagination, background kickarounds rarely featured the same two teams but no costume change required.
These days I really like to people-watch at football grounds but especially the young kids…oh hang on, no; not like that, what I mean is, I want to feel reassured that they are as excited by the whole experience now as I was back then. I am not one of those people who believes that “everything was better in the old days” but I wonder what our youngest fans make of the whole experience of being a modern day football fan ?
I would have relished the wall-to-wall availability of information, statistics, video clips let alone the amount of live TV, which sees games from all around the globe being available 24/7. No waiting for that week’s Shoot magazine to check up on the line ups of divisional rivals in last week’s games !
The state of modern grounds has improved beyond measure since the terrible tragedies at Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough caused football to re-evaluate its principles and practices. Almost all grounds now have family sections and dedicated facilities for disabled spectators, although these can always be improved.
I can only imagine how over-stimulated the five year old me would be walking around a club megastore these days. The thought of personalised kits, matching training gear, tracksuits, coats and even boots would possibly have blown my mind. I was never short of anything as a kid but these places tempt me now !
The only real area of concern for me is the cost of all this. How do we ensure that the next generation is able to enjoy the match day experience, home and away ?
Their footballing future is obviously the future of our football – it therefore relies on all of us to do everything we can to pass on the baton. It relies on footballing authorities to use the TV millions to keep ticket prices sensible and stadiums full – with the average spectator age reducing, not as it is at the moment.
Football-supporting these days in some respects is fundamentally different to the experience I had as a kid but in so many other ways; the visceral excitement, the passion, the noise, the joy, the despair; that remains unchanged - long may it remain so.
RED ROSE ROVER
*we lost 2-1 but thanks for caring enough to read to this footnote. I still have the runners-up medal.