We’re Not Singing Anymore – Who Silenced English Football Fans?

Ollie Irish

26th, November 2010


By James Appell

You’ll have to speak up, my dear – I’m a trifle deaf

“You’re not singing any more.” It’s the classic football catcall, the terrace version of cuckolding. The message, effectively, is as follows: We’ve silenced you, and as a result you are collectively shamed. Your silence suggests you are weak. You are impotent. Your wife is almost certainly cheating on you.

When you boil it down, so much about English fan culture revolves around the verbal jousting between sets of supporters. There are countless versions of “you’re not singing any more” – think “you’re supposed to be at home”, or even the sound of hushing – all of which reflect a mockery of the quiet, passive football fan. Which is strange, because having spent time touring stadiums around Europe over the last few years, I would argue that English fans are now fairly low down the pecking (shouting?) order.

Though our continental chums often laud us as the example to follow, mostly citing the high-watermark of the 1980s as a time when English fans outshouted all-comers, these days it’s across the Channel where you get a proper match-day atmosphere.

In my experience, for real colour and vibrancy on the terraces, England’s top flight is no match for many European leagues. Some of the things I’ve witnessed in stadiums across the continent – Rapid Bucharest fans loudly rejoicing as they set off smoke bombs, Spartak Moscow fans unfurling banners 300ft wide – simply take your breath away.

And the difference isn’t just visible, it’s audible too. To put it another way: we’re not singing any more.

I accept that not all readers will welcome such a statement. Some will dispute the truth of the initial hypothesis. Others will say that, while many clubs do suffer from this problem, their own club’s fans are the loudest/most colourful/hardest this side of the Urals/the Channel/the Pennines. To those I say: travel abroad and see/hear it for yourself. Or, failing that, dig out some YoutTube clips of Lech Poznan v Manchester City or Young Boys v Spurs from this season’s European competition. Even England’s best-supported clubs have some way to go to beat that.

Considerably louder than your club’s fans: Lech Poznan fans bring the noise at Man City earlier this season – for the whole 90 minutes too

Others will try to shoot me down by second-guessing my line of argumentation. To those I say: you’re right, I do think that the combined forces of the Premier League and the Taylor Report have killed the atmosphere in England’s top-flight stadiums – hackneyed though this argument undoubtedly is.

But I’m not calling for a return to the good-old bad-old-days of the ’80s. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have survived on the terraces a generation ago. Nor am I connecting the word ‘atmosphere’ with the word ‘violence’ – the German Bundesliga is no less civilised than the Premier League, and yet their fan culture is very much alive and kicking.

What I would argue is that the combined advent of the Premier League and the Taylor Report forced English football into a trade-off. From 1992 the safety and security of fans were made paramount; at the same time, business-oriented football clubs sought to break into previously untapped markets for new fans: women, children, the middle classes, aka the prawn sandwich nibblers who Roy Keane once berated. You can’t argue with the logic, nor dismiss its benefits.

But along with the knives and the bottles, the flares and the banners also became contraband in English stadiums; the raucous terraces became seated and serene; and those who traditionally sung the loudest, young working-class males, found their collective voice diluted by others who were there for a nice day out.

Moreover, with its market-oriented approach, the Premier League has turned many fans into passive consumers, spending their money with the expectation that entertainment wille be provided. Singing (i.e. approval) is now conditional on the quality of the football being played.

And so over the last 20 years the volume has been turned down, and colour has slowly turned to monochrome. I find this a lamentable situation. If I wanted to sit and watch a game in silence I can do that at home for a fraction of the price of a match ticket.

Is there a solution? I have a feeling re-introducing terraces might be part of it, but coming from the post-Hillsborough generation means I am less appreciative of the problems which standing areas can cause.

Whatever the answer, identifying the problem is a small step on the way towards solving it. And I for one am convinced: it’s all gone quiet over here.

James blogs at The Cynical Challenge. Follow follow follow him on Twitter

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  1. Ollie Irish says:

    Bring back the massive wooden rattle! Great piece, Spartak Jimbo.

  2. Gary says:

    Great piece James. And another reason, which you touch on the edges of in your final few paragraphs, is the cost of a match ticket. That’s going to price out a substantial part of the support who, I’d hazard, would be among the loudest, as opposed to those who, as you’ve identified, are there for a nice day out.

    Again, it’s the Bundesliga which you have to look to here. Plenty of demographics of fans all fitted into the stadium and a hell of a lot of noise.

  3. Stephen says:

    I often think people in the UK mistake atmosphere for noise. I’m not sure there’s a solution to English football fans not singing as much as European counterparts, and I’m sceptical if there even needs to be a solution.

    An Everton fanzine site once discussed the idea of unfurling a large banner simply reading ‘Watch the game, titheads’ whenever the away fans sang ‘Shall we sing a song for you’.

    This wasn’t because Everton fans don’t sing, more that atmosphere at Goodison is created by actions on the pitch. As a result it is spontaneous and vocal (leading Arsene Wenger to call it a ‘bear pit’).

    Meanwhile Liverpool create a tremendous atmosphere doing the exact opposite; with choreographed chants and banners.

    Each club is individual, and has it’s own way of creating an atmosphere. I certainly don’t think they’re any worse than Europe in general (although some top level clubs do struggle to create an atmosphere), just different and a bit quieter.

  4. ishmatt says:

    As horrible as it is to admit it, it does need recognising.

    When the norm becomes £40 a ticket, as a fan you expect a modern stadium with a great view and nice seat and all those things tend to lead to a lack of atmosphere. And with some London clubs where the cost is comparable with a visit to the opera, the fans that go with it are too.

    The more money the Prem makes, the less atmosphere you’re going to get it seems. And they certainly show no signs of not wanting more money…

  5. […] We're Not Singing Anymore – Who Silenced English Football Fans?Who Ate All The PiesSome of the things I've witnessed in stadiums across the continent – Rapid Bucharest fans loudly rejoicing as they set off smoke bombs, Spartak Moscow fans … […]

  6. J says:

    The atmosphere has gone, as you say, since the loss of terracing. You cant move to be near other ‘singers’ so you can the odd little cluster, and sometimes I have found I want to join in but it isn’t close/loud enough so I feel a) stupid as I will be the only one singing in my area, b) I can’t always make outwhat is being sung, just a low drone that indicates something is going on. I miss the days of being able to move around. I dont need to sit on my bum, I want to stand up, I want to make noise, but not being an extrovert, the families etc around me make me feel guilty / too uncomfortable to do what I want to do, shout swear, jump around…I’m all for a nice family area, but please, can we not have an area where you can express yourself however you please (as long as no violence or racism etc)….if families want to sit in silence, can’t they go to the cinema….or at least accept that whilst they may want to sit like statues, some of us are there for a weekend relief and de-stress…to be passionate. Not just wait to be entertained. Once upon a time fans yelled and supported no matter what, now it is only if they are entertained. It use to be a bout loyalty….but now it is all about expectation. Bring back the terraces, bring back the atmosphere. Our working class game seems to be deteriorating at an alarming rate. Clubs don’t seem to realise that the working class/young/single/red blooded people/older people who have supported a team for many years are more likely to keep coming and provide an atmosphere (it used to be fun with random spur of the moment chants)…the families have other financial ties and are more likely to give up the football. They are not the way forward. A mix is fine, but don’t kill off the rest.

  7. carlito11 says:

    Cracking article and right on the money for me- as I mentioned on twitter earlier. I penned a similar but less balanced article about the same situation at Ashburton Grove http://arsenalarsenal.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/the-emirates-library-sssshhhhhh/ The discussion afterwards in the comments is well worth a read and terracing of some kind does seem to be the answer it seems.

  8. Dan says:

    I’ve got to say a lot of it (especially Wembley) is that so many stadiums allocate tickets to the coporate types, who are there with business clients etc. Add that with the mixture of more women and children now attending and the atmosphere is dying!

  9. Jo says:

    I dont think women are the problem – just a certain type – I am a woman but at football I am no different than any guy, passionate, vocal and there for the football. The problem is the little girlies or the wannabe WAGS….and then the middle class families who sit there in silence…or spout rubbish showing they know absolutely nothing about football.

  10. T says:

    Being able to sit where you want (ie not being allocated a seat) and being abale to stand in front of it goes a long way, that way everyone can stand safely where they want

  11. Ted says:

    Nick Hornby predicted all this back in ’92 in ‘Fever Pitch’. It’s boring, over-priced and predictable.

  12. Rich says:

    this is true with the premier league but we’re not all bad, when watching the world cup the first fans i could hear above the vuvuzelas were the english

    but yes, the premier league brand is killing football…actually no, fans letting the premier league brand continue are killing football

  13. […] We’re Not Singing any longer – Who Silenced English Football Fans? » Who Ate a… […]

  14. […] We’re Not Singing any longer – Who Silenced English Football Fans? » Who Ate a… […]

  15. Barrie Collins says:

    I last attended an English match live, back in 1954, just prior to emigrating to Canada. I have followed my team (Chelsea) since then, in any way that I could. The last few years, with the advent of international TV, have been much easier.

    My comment, rather than “Why did the fans stop singing?”, is “When and why did they start?”. Back in the days when I actually stood in the stands, if you’d started singing, you’d have probably been thrown out for being drunk and disorderly. We cheered, we booed, we “helped out” the referee, we hurled brilliant one-liners down from the terraces, but we felt absolutely NO need to sing! Especially those rather tedious, organised chants we hear today. Spontaneity was our watchword, and it was far more fun than the over-rehearsed and predictable junk that modern fans believe (wrongly) reflects their passion for the game. You can’t marshal passion; it’s either there or it’s not. So, stop this ridiculous, follow-my-leader, sheep-like singing, and enjoy the game for Heaven’s sake!

  16. […] We're Not Singing Anymore – Who Silenced English Football Fans … […]

  17. Scotnexile says:

    Another reason to add to the loss of the terraces is the loud PA systems. I’m fed up being at games where they blast out a pop song when a team scores…i wanna hear the fans singing not flipping Robbie Williams or some similar crap! Even the atmosphere at Hampden which has always been incredible is becoming somewhat diluted by the PA system orchestrating the singing of the fans at halftime… Compare it to San Siro or other some other grounds in Europe where the Ultras create the noise.

  18. […] We’re Not Singing any longer – Who Silenced English Football Fans? » Who Ate a… […]

  19. who cares says:

    u only sing when u are winning

  20. Lunga says:

    This can be attributed to the decreasing cost of prawn sandwiches. Now all supporters can munch on a prawn sandwich while cheering for their team.

    “Nom nom nom go team nom nom nom….”

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  22. jonowev says:

    We’ve just sanitized English football beyond the point of no return. Football banning orders, family stands, all-seater stadiums, heavy-handed stewarding and policing, expensive tickets, even the pre-match build up is just Americanized and tacky. It all adds up to shit atmospheres across the board. I wish I lived in Italy or Germany.

  23. Joe says:

    Precisely you said “English top flight teams” few top flight teams can match noise produced at say Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Derby and dare i say Millwall scum. Noisey premier league teams i’d say, Stoke City, Birmingham City, Sunderland, Newcastle probably just that. DON’T TAKE ARSENAL AS AN EXAMPLE OF ALL ENGLISH TEAMS’ SUPPORT! Theres a reason they used to play on Highbury with library, they probably have the quietest support in England. Anywhere why lower league teams are usually lowder than Premier League teams? because that’s where most of the real fans are, who support their teams through the in’s and outs and not when they have quallified for the Champions League, think about it, why would Stoke who bring 28,000 people to a game vastly outsing Arsenal who bring 50,000+. Also, English fans arn’t as passive as you say they are..if ever their team get’s promoted or relegated their most likley is going to be a pitch invasion (like at Leeds). Flares at Birmingham v Aston Villa aswell as pitch invasion, btw I went to a PSG match in France and they were just as loud as Stoke fans, and their supposed to be France’s most roudey fans.

  24. Luke says:

    I have been to my fair share of games and I find that the best support tends to come from the away end. Home support seems to be more reserved nowadays. I went to see the Stoke West Brom game at the Britannia a couple of weeks ago and was disappointed that the famous atmosphere pundits and commentators alike seem to go crazy over was practically non existant until Stoke scored first about an hour into the game and still that was short lived.

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