Tim Turner has a question: why does everyone stand at away games?
As anyone who’s visited West Ham’s not-quite-so-new-anymore home ground knows, the seating arrangement is uniquely problematic, with the away fans split between an upper and a lower tier that are separated by a wide, empty concourse. This makes it impossible to get a proper chant going, as those at the front can’t hear those at the back, and vice versa.
Having experimented with various locations over the years, when buying a ticket for the West Ham game in February I decided the least worst option was the front row of the upper tier. On the night, I got there just in time to join everyone in the Watford end in standing up to cheer and applaud as the players took to the pitch. Then the game began and I sat down. But here’s the funny thing: no one else in my row did.
Now I know a lot of people stand at away games. Naively, though, I’d always assumed that most of them do so because the people in front are standing up, so they have to. It only takes one row of spectators to take to their feet and everyone behind them has to do the same. But here we were in the front row, with an unobstructed view of the pitch. So why was everyone on their feet?
I won’t lie, I felt a bit foolish, being the only one sitting down in the entire row. But I wasn’t about to bow to peer pressure, so I stayed that way all match, apart from jumping up at moments of excitement (which were few and far between, this being Roy Hodgson’s version of Watford). As the game went on, I noticed some people around me starting to lean back against their seats, but without going the whole hog, as if they wanted to sit but didn’t feel they should. It was all rather bizarre.
So here’s my question: what’s the big deal about standing at away matches?
I should say at this point that there is nothing preventing me from standing at football games if I have to. I may be rapidly approaching 60, but I still have full use of my legs. Indeed, since the pandemic, when Watford aren’t playing I’ve started going to occasional non-League games, where standing is the norm – though you can usually lean on a crush barrier, or on the hoardings that surround the pitch.
So I’m perfectly capable of standing for 90 minutes: I just don’t want to. I’ve paid £30 for a seat and it seems daft not to use it. And at home games, most people seem to agree with me (apart from the 1881, for whom sitting down is presumably a sackable offence).
If this was a pub argument, someone would smugly point out at this juncture that it’s impossible to sing properly sitting down; that’s why, in church, the vicar makes everyone stand up for the hymns. To which I would say, if the travelling Hornets had aspirations to win a choral competition, they may have a point – but in reality, belting out “My old man said be a Luton fan…” doesn’t really demand perfect control of the diaphragm, does it?
Another issue with standing at away grounds is safety. At Leicester and Chelsea, for example, the rake of the stand is so steep, with the top of the seat in the row in front typically at ankle height, that it would only take one person to overbalance to cause a serious incident. Conversely, if you’re in the back half of the godforsaken Arthur Wait Stand at Selhurst Park, standing up just gives you a worse view of the pitch, as even more of your eyeline is taken up by the low-hanging TV gantry.
Last but not least, standing at away games is inconsiderate to the elderly and those with small children. At Arsenal a few seasons ago, I was sat behind a couple who must have been in their eighties, and who clearly couldn’t stand for ten minutes at a time, never mind 90. It was upsetting to watch them struggle to their feet for a few minutes before collapsing back into their seats, with a view of nothing but the backs of the people in front. I gather Watford have since addressed this by designating a block of seats at away matches for such people, which is something.
But I’m not ready to sit with the mobility-impaired just yet. I want to go to away games and shout and sing and swear with all the other travelling Hornets – I just want to do it sitting down. Is that really so strange?