A lot has been made of the atmosphere or, lack of, at St James Park in recent times but one word I never thought I would hear attached to the stadium is ‘library’.
It`s not quite there yet but the mere rumblings of that word being touted in relation to Newcastle should be a sure enough sign that something needs to be done.
Atmosphere is essential for home advantage. It is drastically overlooked in terms of influence on a match in the modern game and there seems to be an element of expectancy that the team is responsible and should play well enough to get bums off seats and tonsils strained.
This is not exclusive to Newcastle. It seems to be a growing trend at a lot of clubs. The prawn sarnie brigade are multiplying and it is killing atmospheres around the country. Maybe it is just a working man thing to destroy your voice-box of a Saturday afternoon and with it being increasingly tough for the average Joe soap to afford to go to every game it has given the prawn sarnies a chance to grow.
I genuinely think there`s more to it than that though. No matter the social background, supporters are one in the same in my eyes. We all support Newcastle and are there to get behind the team. We just seem to have lost something in recent times. Maybe instead it has something to do with the hardships of recent years beating the enthusiasm out of many. Who knows what it is but whatever the reason it is something that needs addressing.
As far how to get it back I have no idea. There are so many elements to creating an atmosphere. It isn’t simply a singing section. It isn’t getting behind the teams only when they do something to encourage it. It isn’t even something that should be there upon kick off. It should be something that is there from the second the stadium begins to fill and everyone has their part to play.
The now displaced level 7 supporters have highlighted the atmosphere issue, or lack of, in more recent times, and while I disagree with their claim to fame as the only source of noise and atmosphere within the stadium, many would agree that they were pretty much solely responsible.
I don`t dispute they were the main source of it and credit where it`s due, it is great to see. I just don`t think it helps the cause to separate and single out a section, in doing so essentially putting down all the other loyal fans who show up to support the team week in week out.
I`m more an advocate of a philosophy of inclusion, togetherness and the collective. I know that sounds all world peace, kumbaya around the camp fire type stuff but division is never good among fans and scenarios such as the ones reported during the opening home games are not something we should see happen in future.
The report in the Chronicle about the old lady being disrespected and abused by fans standing in front of her. On the other side the story of two young lads looking to stand and sing and enjoy the match as they see fit being physically assaulted by grown adults. It is well out of order and nobody wants to see scenes of that nature become a common occurrence.
I think what it has done is highlight the the Level 7 issue being one which needs addressing by the club in the near future and a resolution agreed upon, but it will take time, probably more time now that the season has started. In the meantime ugly scenes such as the ones mentioned do not help the cause one bit, no matter whatever your take on the right way to show support at matches may be.
There will be a waiting and transitional period in which displaced fans who wish to stand and support in the fashion they like will have to be more accommodating to the seated fans they now find themselves among until something is sorted out.
On the other side of the coin seated fans have to understand that these lads are not hooligans there to cause trouble. It is simply a clash of fan culture, a method of supporting and enjoying games. Are we going to take the approach of stay quiet and watch the game or get banned? It will become a library in no time if that`s the case, and I don`t think anybody wants that.
Getting back to how the atmosphere can be improved upon. I personally think this was a problem that existed before the Level 7 displacement to be honest. As I said, how to bring back the noise I don`t know. What I do know is the fortress that St James Park once was needs to return and an electric atmosphere can have a massive influence on our side, and in turn the visitors.
In the past it wasn’t the quality of our team alone that made St James such a nightmare of a place to come for opposition sides. It was everything about it. We had an element of the Galatasaray effect at one stage. Every Premier League club eyeing up their fixtures at the start of the season would be dreading the trip up to the North-East knowing it was up there with the toughest away games of the season.
Of course the atmosphere has a lot to do with it and although I was aware of this I had always seen the 12th man as a bit of an overly hyped concept until I got a bit older. It is a cliche but as with most cliches they don’t exist without a ring of truth. When you see fans get behind every kick of the ball, every player, supporting and pushing them on from the first minute to last, how often do you see teams respond and lift their game.
For the away team an electric atmosphere can be an unnerving situation to find themselves in, especially in a stadium such as ours. When the stadium is buzzing, pressure from players and fans combined increases. Every touch and decision is under intense scrutiny and more often than not will lead to a mistake at some point.
To use one example of a great atmosphere aside from Newcastle for a second, the Kop end at Anfield is famous for a reason. Any player who has played at Anfield or fan who has visited can confirm it has an influence, not just the Kop end but the atmosphere around the stadium in general. No matter your affiliation, the heartfelt chorus of ‘You`ll Never Walk Alone’ immediately preceding kick off has an impact, no question.
To use another more general example mentioned briefly in comparison earlier, remember the big European nights for English clubs going to play Galatasaray. Many an English club managers heart has sank seeing Galatasaray being drawn in their group, safe in the knowledge that away game is going to be as tough as they come.
The atmosphere in that stadium, albeit a bit too hostile for my liking, without a shadow of a doubt has a direct impact on results. Their team has been massive underdogs on certain European nights yet their record at home is second to none. Time and time again I have heard players, managers and people within football speak of Galatasaray and say that it is one of the hardest places to play in the world. To come out with a draw even if vastly superior to the team themselves is considered a good result.
This to me proves that atmosphere is a bigger factor than some give it credit for and it is essential that St James’ gets that kind of atmosphere and reputation back. It is one of the very few stadiums with the capacity and potential to become a real fortress in English football. I wish I had the answers, power or influence to find a quick fix or make it happen overnight because I miss those days but sadly I`m just a lad with an opinion, no more.
As far as what constitutes creating a good atmosphere I think there is so much to it, half of which I will probably not even think of mentioning. For me, it begins with a packed stadium. I understand there`s talks of boycotts etc based on recent events and I can see why, but that is probably a subject best left for another article. All I will say is that in terms of atmosphere and the fans having a real influence and getting the very best out of the team, the first step has to be fifty odd thousand Geordies there to support the lads every week.
Next up for me would be the bring back the scarves campaign. Personally think it is a really great idea and anyone who witnessed the scenes at Alan Shearer’s testimonial will understand exactly why. I was hoping it would have taken off more than it has so far but if everyone who supports it pushes for the cause I`m sure it will grow and grow.
As well as that I think it has to be pushed in local businesses. Things like pubs giving free scarves for every few pints. The club themselves sending free scarves to members and season ticket holders. Even the new Newcastle lingerie should come with a scarf for those cold winter nights. Well maybe not but you see what I`m getting at.
Aside from the scarves I think chants have important part to play. Apart from the tried and tested favourites I think every new player needs their own chant. I’ve seen a few good Cabaye ones doing the rounds on twitter but imagine how much of a lift it would give you as a new player to hear the fans chant your name each and every game, have their own personalized song for you, essentially showing them you`re one of us now. The bit of humour thrown in obviously helps from a fans perspective too as everyone has a laugh with it and wants to get involved.
I think another important aspect or moment is when the teams leave the dressing room and line up side by side before hitting the pitch. There is a lot that can put a seed of doubt in opposition heads in these final moments. Entrance music is one of them, and not something you would normally think about, after all we`re a football team not Hulk Hogan. I do believe it does have a subtle but important part to play in the minutes leading up to kick off though, maybe its just the feeling I get as a fan.
I just remember thinking in days gone by, even watching on TV as the teams hit the tunnel, lined up side by side awaiting the signal to hit the field. The deafening sound of O Fortuna playing with a packed stadium of football mental Geordies as background noise, chomping at the bit in anticipation of their team giving whoever came to St James’ 90 minutes of hell.
To this day I remember thinking time and time again seeing that scene, my god I would hate to be that away team now. It helped create an atmosphere right before kick off, an extremely intimidating one for any away side, and as much as the sound of Local Hero is good to hear and appreciated by many it doesn’t exactly create the most intimidating of atmospheres lets be honest.
There`s so many different aspects to it I could go on all day. I’ll leave it there for now but I would be interested to hear peoples thoughts. What are the underlying reasons for the lack of atmosphere? Can it return to what it once was? Is there a science to it or is it something that comes naturally?
What could be done to help the cause and make St James’ Park a fortress once more?