Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fanzone

In an exchange of emails over the weekend, Chicago Addick pointed out that there appears to be an unfortunate rise in bickering amongst Charlton fans, whether in the stands, or on the message boards and blogs.

As a result, on Jan 2nd, he issued a 'cry for togetherness'. Now, I won't go that far (not least because leadership qualities are not really my strong point), but it seems a reasonable juncture at which to assess our current support, especially in light of Alan Pardew's own comments on Saturday aimed squarely at our quieter fans:

"...if we're going to get promoted we need their support. I need to hear that drum in the corner. At the moment it's a bit flat here."

Although it's difficult not to do so, I try hard not to differentiate between 'good Charlton fans' and bad ones. Everyone has their own reasons for turning up and paying good money for football at The Valley; personally I was effectively brainwashed as a young child, and thus view my support (and often related irrational behaviour) as essentially an involuntary reflex.

Others however may simply have come across Charlton in recent years, or even perhaps football in general; as we well know, The Valley is a very agreeable place in which to embark on that voyage of discovery, and very welcome they are too.

Given that the club's marketing policy since 5 Dec 1992 (pictured) has centred upon emphasising the very family atmosphere to which they are so attracted, it would be a little disingenuous to feel any differently about our newer fans. We simply could not have achieved the success (which in a relative sense, certainly continues today) without them, and the additional stability they engendered.

However, at the same time we need to recognise that their incentives for attendance may be vastly different from those of us who have been going along for decades. More importantly, your benchmark for success is going to be a lot different if (like me) you recall seeing Charlton in the third-tier of English football. For some of our fans, this season has been their first experience of football outside the top tier. It's no wonder some of them feel a bit miffed.

My Burnley-supporting pal in New York yesterday suggested to me that QPR were inherently a bigger club than Charlton, regardless of any recent financial boost. I responded that he was wrong, and then helpfully pointed out why he was wrong: his base of football knowledge was developed in the mid-1970s, around the time when QPR's form peaked, once finishing 2nd to Liverpool (in 1975/76).

The 1970s were a fleetingly good time to be a Rangers fan for sure, but probably not very meaningful as an indicator of their relative glamour today. Likewise I tend to irrationally view the likes of Bristol City and Brighton as bigger clubs than they truly are because I began my own footballing journey just a few years later. If one views those moaning Charlton fans in this type of context, then one might begin to have more sympathy with their frustration.

It's also worth noting that a separate subgroup of these newer fans may not even care much whether Charlton win or lose at all (shock horror). The Saturday routine that I was brought up upon is a very enjoyable one with plenty of attractive attributes, allowing some quality time with family whilst watching some live sport (in a friendly stadium), being perhaps the most obvious. I've little doubt that the passion on display at the New Den for example is greater , but just stop and compare the relative League positions.

You don't have to risk ruining the rest of your weekend (as I certainly do) by ultimately being that bothered if your adopted team is victorious. Unless we're planning to turn The Valley into some sort of exclusive membership club (admission given on proof of attendance at the 5-1 defeat at home to Rotherham in 1982), then there isn't much we can do. Then again, I would qualify for the club so perhaps it's worth considering.

I have never booed at Charlton matches, never stood up and berated the referee, nor frantically tried to draw the linesman's attention to a possible offside (the alcohol ban assists in this regard). I don't run for trains, drive fast or speak on my mobile phone in public (you get the picture). Not surprisingly, my fairly introspective nature does not lend itself to cheering or singing very much either, but I would take great offence if how much I cared about the club was brought into question (though don't expect me to Stand Up If I Love Charlton). In short, I like to free ride upon the atmosphere created by others.

For some reason this type of obsession with showing passion (rather than merely feeling it) is unique to football. I don't recall attending a live gig for example, and having fellow fans of the band scold me for quietly sipping a pint and tapping my feet, rather than joining them in the mosh pit. The battle for free expression was a hard-fought one, I don't think The Valley is the place to re-enact it.

And sadly as much as Pards may wish to think otherwise, whilst there may be a correlation between booing fans and poor results (although the causation is doubtless two-way), there is no discernable correlation between quiet fans and poor results (witness Sir Alex Ferguson's complaints about the atmosphere at Old Trafford). If you don't believe this, you'll have to go some way to explaining Newcastle's perennial underachievement.

As for those that do boo the team, the chances are they are the sort of people who take that same positive and laid-back attitude into other areas of their life. You know the sort of people whose heart rate rockets when the traffic lights change against them? He's probably sat behind you in the East Stand.

More curiously, during my decades as a philosophical football supporter, I've concluded that often it's not so much the booing per se that is an annoyance, but the fact that these fans tend to boo at the wrong moments.

My favourite (and adaptable) example is as follows. How many times in recent seasons have Charlton scored when a player has attempted to shoot during open play from 25 yards or more? The answer instinctively is 'not very many times', and a quick review of our stats for this season would suggest perhaps only Danny Mills' deflected equaliser versus Plymouth, and Matt Holland's opener against Cardiff might qualify. Last season, perhaps only Talal el Karkouri's goal against Sheffield United.

This phenomenon is true of all teams of course, not merely Charlton; the stunning entrants in the MoTD Goal of the Month competition are memorable precisely because they're so rare. I don't care what goalkeepers say about the movement from the new footballs; they're always willing players to shoot from distance, because they hate conceding goals.

Meanwhile, how many times are goals scored when a Charlton player has possession in a similar position, but rather than taking on the potential shot, chooses to pass/run/cross* (*delete as appropriate)? Unfortunately I clearly don't have a specific answer, but by definition the answer must be 'very many indeed.'

You get the picture. Yet, whenever a Charlton player attempts a shot from 25-yards which narrowly misses, why do the crowd give a collective whoop (understandable because it's instinctive) but then inexplicably follow it with a warm round of applause? Meanwhile those same fans would doubtless rain abuse upon say, the oft-booed Darren Ambrose if he attempted to execute a delicate through ball from 25-yards out which was intercepted? Perhaps they also wonder why Arsenal's players shoot so rarely despite seemingly having ample opportunities to do so?

Thus, whilst accepting that footballers are not very bright, they are however somewhat rational, and are presumably happier being cheered rather than jeered, and will thus play with this in mind. If the boo-boys want to continuing booing whilst simultaneously helping our chances, it would be beneficial if they would learn to stop booing at the wrong times. I can only hope that Pards and his coaching staff can spot the paradox.

If promotion is not achieved this season, and if the club chooses not to re-offer its free Premiership season tickets (though I suspect it will), then it is reasonable to assume that our attendances will drop off markedly next season. If those that yearn for the good old days think that (more passionate but smaller) home attendances will be beneficial to our chances, I think that they ought to be careful what they wish for.

8 Comments:

At 5:10 AM, Anonymous SLC Red said...

Perceptive piece. Just a few not particularly well thought out observations. I have never booed the players but my memories of the crowd are that dissatisfaction rested with lack of effort or lack of good old Charlton guts rather than technical deficiencies or results. Things changed when the top was put on the North Stand and the corners were filled in. This obviously coincided with a dramatic influx of new, expectant fans. I've never felt the old atmosphere since although I'm clearly not there anything near every week. However, where is the roar that greeted the players when the whistle went? The US is the land of the short attention span but perhaps this need for instant gratification without contribution is filtering into the British game - the crows feels the team needs to generate the noise rather than the crowd spur the team. Perhaps the Club needs the Premiership for psychological more than financial reasons. Great blog though - the first and only one I read.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger Pedro45 said...

Good post NYA! I was one of those at that Rotherham match too.

I think I understand Pardew's comments, even though they have been taken out of context in some places subsequently. Peter Varney said last year that Pard's wants to re-create an atmosphere similar to Upton Park from the start, where the players run out to "Bubbles" and all the crowd sings; instant atmosphere and full participation. Attempts at The Valley have not worked, although the giant Killer flag was fun for a while.

What really riles me though, is the so-called singers from the North Stand that berate the rest of the ground for being quiet, and then how many gaps in seats were there on Saturday when a cup game comes along? If the West and East stands were half full, the North was only about a quarter filled! And where have the drums gone? I'm not sure I've heard them at all this season...

Fans "support" in different ways at matches; I don't sing (much) anymore, but I do shout at the players, ref, linesman, etc. I don't cheer the players onto the pitch, nor off at the end (as I try to get away quickly). I am as passionate inside as any other Charlton fan, as no doubt you are, but it doesn't show at games.

We support by being there, writing about the club, paying for tickets, spreading the word, etc.

Ultimately, a successful team would help the atmosphere, and a good atmosphere would help the team. We'll try to do our bit if Pardew carries out his duties.

 
At 9:37 AM, Blogger charlton north-downs said...

Spot on NYA. Supporting Charlton for over 40 years through good and bad and I have never booed a player or the team and yet I feel I am as passionate as any Charlton supporter. Sitting in the East Stand every home game I feel the most unbiased fans sit there and will appreciate good play from both teams.
When the team are trying and pushing forward the noise level treblesand it is a good atmosphere.

 
At 11:49 AM, Blogger StoneMuse said...

Good stuff NYA.

As with Charlton North Downs I hve been going to Charlton for 40 years plus - booing is something I would never do.

Most of my Charlton Life was in the old Covered End, but since we returned to the Valley, I have been in the East Stand.

 
At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this thank you NYA.

 
At 1:25 PM, Anonymous Mark said...

As usual an interesting piece. Booing is something I can understand in certain situations (after wycombe last year for example) but we boo so much it has lost all significance, in fact i think its becoming counter productive, as I dont feel there is a strong bond between fans and players, and unwarranted as we are fifth and in touch with the leaders, look at sheff utd, southampton, norwich, leicester, palace, this league isnt easy.

There were boos after 16 minutes at Colchester, the game hasnt finished, who knows what will happen, lets at least see the final outcome before venting! A guy in front of me criticised things before they even happened, screaming s*it cross before the ball left the foot, he looked a little silly on a few occasions! We are a pessimistic bunch, if we dont believe in the team no one will do it for us, we are a good team on bad form and form is temporary.

We are too quick to criticize and slow to support. Though its a two way thing a bigger degree of support would benefit the players, I understand singing is not for everyone but I've seen people asked to be quiet, its not the cinema! So many of our fans are people are there for a day trip, though Im glad their money is in the bank, they won't hang around if things get tough, when our supporters need to be strongest, its a dielemma.

hopefully we can take some intiatives that other clubs, most noticably aston villa to improve atmosphere and give the Valley a happy, positive, optimistic feeling rather than what it is now, when everyone is just miserable, football is meant to be fun. Lets get behind the team and stick together.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Itchy & Scratchy said...

Thanks for an interesting read monsieur NYA. Fans involvement is always an emotive topic as it seems to strike at exactly why we're here in the 1st place.

I've regularly attended the valley since the club moved back there and at first could only get a seat in the south stand. I remember always hearing and feeling the atmosphere that was generated in the north stand and longed to get in there amongst it. A season or 2 later and me and my brother got ourselves in the old E block (and then onto the F block) and the matchday experience really came alive.

For me, there are two main causes for the diluted atmosphere;

'SLC red' draws attention to when the corners were filled in the north stand. More importantly though, this was when the old E&F block ticket holders were moved upstairs and told to sit down in their designated singing area. And although yes, they still generate a noise, it's nothing like what I remember. Maybe this perception is simply nostalgia or just me getting a little older, but also, there are certainly less impromptu songs these days. ('he shoots, he scores, he eats your labradores' being an exception to the rule.)

The other, I'm afraid is more systemic. We really have 'endured' our football over the past 3-4 seasons and friends of mine have quite rightly described the attending of matches as a 'contractual obligation'. Whilst Pardew certainly lit a fire when he came in, efforts were tempered by the tools he had to work with. This piggy backed a good 2-3 years of what really was quite boring football. I'm genuinely surprised we've managed to sustain the fanbase we do have for this long. There must be some fans out there that have only ever seen the stoicly measured, controlled, tactical and lets face it negative way we've gone about getting results for quite some time. players

I agree with 'Marks' comment that the valley is now far too quick to start booing, but its been born out of years, and I mean years, of frustration. For me, its the players that ultimately have to 'start' the atmosphere. Tackles, shots, 60 yard track backs etc WILL generate atmosphere. There has to be a 'fight' on the pitch - and I don't mean literal. I remember regularly drawing and losing games where the team was warmly clapped of the pitch at the end because they had given all they had. That kind of support is still there, but I'm afraid it will never be given freely.

Finally, I just couldn't resist the chance to volley one back at Pedo45. For the west brom cup game, I and six of my fellow north stand season ticket holders sat in the east stand, as cup games are an opportunity to get a different perspective of a match for no extra cost. We weren't the only ones with this idea. The north stand was practically empty because they were supplementing the east and west stands.

As for the, where have the drums gone comment, you'll only ever see this question after a cup game. I don't personally know the drummer/s or what their reasons are, but they never play at cup games - not for as long as I can remember anyhow. They've been there all season in the league, so if pedo45 is allowed out this saturday, no doubt he'll hear them.

 
At 12:16 AM, Blogger ValleySu said...

Over forty years ago I stood with my father on the west terraces and a "fan" who regularly stood in front of us, berated everyone that moved. I wonder that Keith Peacock ever wanted to stay! As a teenager with friends, I can remember going to cup games and standing, crushed, watching QPR with Rodney Marsh, and the whole crowd telling him what they thought of him. Now, those forty years plus later, I sit in the lower North Stand as a season ticket holder and listen to the abuse that abounds. I won't...and can't boo, I do sing...clap, cheer loudly...and groan silently. Along from my seat at the Colchester game was someone who threw abuse loudly, standing whenever he felt the need, and making sure he had an audience. From behind me, I can hear a similar reaction, regularly, and explaining to the players how they would play the game! Even when we're doing fine, there's something wrong for them! I do wonder at these "fans". Maybe they are a new version, and would only be happy if we are top of the Premiership, playing perfect football (is there such a thing?), or do they just like the attention their vocals give them.
I go because I need to, the red of Charlton flows deep, as does the passion, and not being quite as far as NYC, I do have a bit of a journey, but that's my choice...as it's my choice not to throw abuse at MY team, though the opposition is fair game! ;) I stay to the end (hoping the tunnel is clear), and clap the players, let the players know they're playing for supporters, they know how they've played, they don't need us booing them to find that out!
And yes, the drums have been playing for the league games...

 

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