Look, let me start with a confession. I wasn’t always this highly presentable, respectable father and fine upstanding family man I am today. I used to travel all over the country watching Wigan Athletic getting drunk and hanging about with some chaps who might have occasionally indulged in some naughty behaviour. Not that I was ever any good at it, and this is probably why I ended up writing about football and it’s culture. Because I’m a better writer than I am a fighter. I’m a writer not a fighter. There, that’s my epitaph sorted.
I’ve done it loads of times. And not because the home end was sold out either. Probably because it was cheaper but also because I was an obnoxious little get. Here are some examples:
Hartlepool away early nineties: Eight cans of Strongbow on the way up and Jimmy thinks he can take on ten men as he saunters into the home end with a well known gentleman whose names rhymes with Budworth. One shout of encouragement to our yellow shirted heroes and 300 mad monkey hangers have surrounded us and are raining in punches and kicks until the stewards come to retrieve us and deliver us safely to the away end. Hilarious.
Scarborough in the FA Cup, again similar period. Seriously there were Wiganers on all four sides of the ground that day. The famous Sweden “Wigan Athletic” flag appeared in all four ends – nothing to do with a Swedish fan club, more lifted from the recent European championships. Someone had also recently been to Poland for an England qualifier and brought back some industrial strength bangers. Whilst quaffing ale in the boozers of Scarborough it felt like the IRA were in town every time one of those b*ggers went off.
Anyway, we scored and dozens jumped up, too many for the locals to do anything or for their notorious fascist stewards to do anything other than ask us politely to be clod into the away end. Unfortunately when we scored again, there were just two lads left and shortly after they jumped up on the terrace, the locals promptly jumped on them and administered a slight beating.
It’s only a few bumps and bruises at the end of the day and boys will be boys but you know what? They deserved it – I deserved it. No complaints here. And now we move on to the unwritten rule stage of the article.
I don’t want to get into the whole modern football versus the bad old football debate but there are certain things then that are relevant still now. If you go in the home end you have two options:
1. Keep your mouth shut, sit on your hands and show some respect to those people whose stand you have infiltrated albeit innocently to support your team
2. Sing songs, mouth off and hurl vile abuse at the locals, jump up when you score and generally behave like a scumbag despite being surrounded by people who did not pay good money to be sat by you or have no desire to act in a similar manner
Point 1. requires no further analysis, it is obviously the right answer and is what 99% of football fans would do, even the ones who may have indulged in a spot of Marquis of Queensbury in the vicinity of a football game in the past.
Point 2. Is a bit more complex. You see, in the bad old days, people went in the home ends on purpose often with the intent of causing trouble or as an act of bravado. You don’t see the phrase “taking an end” being used too much these days but that in itself was an art form as grainy clips of the huge Holte End at Villa Park getting scattered like gazelle by a few hundred rival hooligans will testify.
There’s a whole sliding spectrum of intent going back four decades ranging from turning up in a home end en masse with the sole intention of starting trouble and chasing the home fans out of their preferred viewing space. Right down to a handful of pillocks who’ve just had too much ale and think it will be funny to wander into the home end because it’s a few quid cheaper, act all boorish and who cares what some Southern softy thinks you’re going to shout “Go on Farny lad” to Simon Farnworth in a broad Wigan accent while stood behind the home fans’ goal (Wycombe away, 1998)
Either way, that was then, this is now. The rules have changed because football has changed although some elements remain true. At Wigan Athletic in 2012 it is fair to say that we have seating and stadium capacity issues. It’s not a problem isolated to us but is a problem in the game, especially for teams like us with a big ground playing a level or two higher than our natural place regularly facing big city clubs who pull in support from al over the country and even within our town.
The first thing to say about the above activity, whether you condone it or not is that most people can smell trouble brewing and have ample opportunity to get out of the way. Or at least could do in the days of terracing and often unreserved seating.
Let’s face it, there are plenty of your fellow fans you’d rather not sit next to given the chance let alone fans of a different team. Football is a much more sanitised place these days where families are welcome and encouraged and people sit down and occasionally clap along to a choreographed drum or goal music.
That was then, this is now. We nearly all have allocated seating these days and unless you are fortunate to support a team which sells out every game, or you have lots of friends who surround you and all have season tickets then you may not know who you are going to be sat next to each week. Furthermore, you don’t have a choice who you are going to be sat next to.
Now football is a family game these days whether we like it or not, and for a growing football club like Wigan Athletic bringing along the family has become an absolute necessity in order to develop a long term support base. It’s not for me like, but my daughter’s only 1. If she shows an interest in future then she can come with me. When she’s 17 and can drive me there and back via the alehouse. That should generate a comment.
Although there is a dedicated family stand at Wigan Athletic, there are also pockets of families all around the ground and generally a home game is a fair place to watch a football match for young and old and all support types.
There are however those big games when the away end is sold out and drifts into the home ends. Now again, different views prevail. The absolute point of view is that if Wigan Athletic cannot sell the tickets, and the away allocation is sold out, then why shouldn’t away fans sit in our stands – either informally – getting tickets incognito – or formally, simply sectioning off another block for them – sadly this seems to be impossible for the club or the local police force despite many clubs up and down the country managing to operate such a system. But then the contra opinion is that 5,000 is ample tickets so why give the away team a further advantage?
There is apparently a database system which prevents away fans for buying tickets in home ends but as a last line of defence it is about as reliable as Vladimir Stojkovic. If fans want to get in, they’ll get in by finding someone else to get them a ticket, perhaps who lives locally or by already being on the database and buying tickets for others, or by simply paying a few extra bob the club will willingly sell a corporate package. Now I know the club are damned if they do and damned if they don’t but I think we all agree that the database doesn’t work, as was evidenced by the many pockets of Evertonians jumping up in the home end last Saturday.
I doubt there were thousands of them, maybe a couple of hundred at the most but the trouble is, it’s always the worst kind. Sitting on your hands isn’t easy at the best of times but I suspect most home fans can tolerate an involuntary reaction followed by a swift apology. Many of us have sat with away fans who have come clean and had a good chinwag with them, indeed many of us may have bought their tickets and invited them to sit with us. At Wigan, we’re more tolerant than most; by contrast can you imagine the reaction if a few dozen Wigan fans jumped up in the Gwladys Street End?
Yet as I say it’s always the worst kind, the kind who, upon finding themselves sat in with families use the opportunity to actually intimidate people even more, going back to those territorial and tribal days and use the “taken an end” adage to swear, abuse and pick fights with people who are just sat watching the game, from the seat they always do week in, week out.
At the last Wigan Athletic home game there was a gaggle of Evertonians sat behind me who spent the whole game swearing, standing up, joining in their teams songs, spitting at kids, calling female Wigan fans “F***ing slags” and generally mouthing off at any home fans around them who dared to take umbrage to it. This is not respect, this is cowardly. And what do the stewards do? They run and hide of course. Meanwhile several home fans left before half time, possibly forever; more fans lost due to poor crowd control.
I am by no means singling out Evertonians here, their fans are no worse than any of the idiots who attract themselves to big clubs, indeed Everton fans in general are a fair bunch with many of the ones I speak to more or less admitting that the bigger allocation at Wigan and the close proximity to Liverpool inevitably results means a larger proportion of bell ends attach themselves on to their away support.
We’ve had this debate in the Mudhutter for many a year though, the old “Get them out / Get into them”, the problem always begins with a lack of respect but it is always interesting to witness the ensuing reaction of home fans as it kind of reflects an individuals’ approach to football generally.
The “get them out” brigade will stand there red faced in mock outrage when an away fan is outed. The “get into them” brigade advocate a more primitive approach to resolving matters.
I’m not even sure if there is a difference between these cries any more but let’s be honest, in a bygone time, if rival football fans wanted to fight, then they’d just fight – with hardly any comeback or recrimination whilst the innocent bystanders would move away, carefully shielding the eyes of their excitable offsprings.
Now let’s say, a home fan, offended at the behaviour of an away fan in his end, gets affronted and punches him in the face. What happens here? Well, belatedly – and indeed often weeks or months later – that individual can face criminal proceedings, a large fine or even a jail sentence, all for getting into a fight for someone who shouldn’t have been there and has probably caused a provocation.
Those of you who remember the Liverpool game a few years back will remember the disorder in the East Stand when loads of Scousers were walking around threatening Wiganers and lording it up until something gave and half the stand turned on them. Funnily enough one of the LFC sites, probably RAWK, later reported this as “hundreds of inbred Wiganers turning on one fine upstanding Liverpool fan who was peacefully watching the game with his son”. Ho hum.
Now, again, I don’t want to condone or condemn here but there were lads there who have watched Wigan Athletic all their lives, sure some of them had been a bit naughty over the years but there is no way they would have been involved in football violence (or a bit of biff as they jokingly call it in rugby league) had they not been provoked by away fans sat in the wrong stand. Criminal charges, fines, even loss of jobs could follow all because they chose to “get into them”. I’m sure there’s a contrary opinion there around keeping a stiff upper lip and exercising restraint and why can’t we all be friends about it but if that’s your opinion I would politely suggest you don’t know the first thing about football and it’s history and would be better off watching Ice Hockey or summat.
Not that I am advocating their behaviour in any way but if it is to be prevented or dismissed out of hand, then the club needs to react swiftly in real time – not rely on a bunch of shoulder shuffling stewards happy to take the money but totally inert to taking action. Seriously, what is the point in them apart from picking on a few teenagers with their feet on the seats?
So the “get into them” approach is dead then, we’re agreed. The problem is that I find the alternative “get them out” a bit limp as well. Screaming Mary Ellens standing up and pointing just because someone is stood up, crowing away because his team has just scored a goal. Can’t we just hit them instead? The crower not the get-them-outer that is? In fact hit the both of them or put them in a room together to settle their differences.
See, I’m being flippant in parts but also deadly serious. it’s a problem, and it’s a problem which winds me and many others up but the only real solution is to fill the ground or make it smaller. A greater proportion of passionate home fans or fewer available match day tickets would mean that there would be fewer tickets available for away fans to get their hands on and those that did would be less inclined to act the balloon. Wigan might not be The New Den or even Goodison Park but it’s not the Home Counties either. it’s a tough Northern working class town where people don’t walk away from a fight when being intimidated. Something which the “no fans ha ha ha” internet cybergoons from up and down the country would quickly find out if they ever started opining their views in the pubs and clubs of Springfield pre and post match instead of behind their keyboard.
See there I go again. Throughout this article I have tread a very fine line and I make no apology for stepping too far either side of it, because it’s just my view. Hopefully people can see the distinction between people looking for a fight and getting one and people who have no intention of getting involved with a fight yet often find it coming their way due to the nuances of our ground and the situation we find ourselves in.
So I don’t have a solution, just wanted to get it off my chest and will suppress my mock outrage the next time something flares up and stick to the people watching as grown men and women cry out
“GET INTO THEM”
“GET THEM OUT”
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