An argument for the moving of away fans to the United Road third tier

There was a time when opposition fans were too scared to come to Old Trafford in any significant numbers due to the knowledge that United fans were famously inhospitable towards visiting supporters. If you ever watch a re-played United match from the 1970s on ESPN classic or ITV4, that was played at Old Trafford, you’ll notice that when the opposition score, there’s virtual silence in the ground. Friends of mine who remember Old Trafford in the 1970s say that while the football wasn’t to the standard we’re used to nowadays, the atmosphere at for United home games was collosal.

Entrance turnstiles to the Stretford End, circa 1980s, this must be just pre kick off as there’s no que

I went to my first United match in March 1981, it was a 2-1 victory against a championship challenging Ipswich Town who were managed by the late Bobby Robson. I became an Old Trafford regular in season 82/82 and one the first things I noticed was when the oposition scored, there’d be a tiny pocket of supporters on the Scoreboard terrace just below J & K stands celebrating. In them days, the only teams that would bring any decent amount of travelling support would be Liverpool, City, Newcastle United and Sunderland. The likes of Arsenal, Tottenham or Everton would bring good numbers if their teams were doing well otherwise, they’d be lucky to fill out two pens on the scoreboard terrace (1500 approx). I remember the atmosphere at Old Trafford in them days being lively due to the  fact that people and more importantly, kids, could pay £1.10 on the gate of the Stretford End terrace, £1.30 on the Stretford End seats (E stand) or the Stretford End Paddock which cost £1.20. You had to be at the ground for 1PM at the very latest or you weren’t getting in. It didn’t really matter who United were playing, the atmosphere would build up over the two hours preceeding the match so when the teams emerged from the old tunnel in the middle of the main stand, the ground would be rocking. Nowadays, the ground is normally 4/5s empty half an hour before kick off so unless United are playing Liverpool or City, the atmosphere is more subdued.

A packed Stretford End

Stretford End pre match in the early 1980s, notice how it’s full while the C & D stand on it’s right hand side are virtually empty

When Martin O’Neill took over as Aston Villa manager in the summer of 2006, one of the first things he decreed was that the away fans should be moved from Witton End of the ground and into the Witton Lane stand, left pitchside to where the away fans used to be. At Newcastle, away fans are that high up in the stand that I swear you can nearly see Scotland on a clear day at the Sports Direct Arena (touché). At Goodison Park, opposing fans were moved from the Park End many years ago and placed into the Upper Bullens stand. I can reel off a whole host of examples but the main point is, when these changes were made, supporters of the respective clubs weren’t lamenting the re-organisation as the death knell of the grounds atmosphere. The whole reason for these changes was to give the home fans the premium seat in the ground.

There’s an experiment taking place next month at Old Trafford for the United home match against Aston Villa where, the visiting fans are going to be placed into the top tier of the United road/North/Sir Alex Ferguson stand. Recently I’ve heard what I believe to be a lot of melodramatic nonsense about the adverse affects that this experiment and it’s probable end result is going to have on the atmosphere at Old Trafford. A lot of matchgoing reds that I like and respect are saying that it’s going to ruin the atmosphere at Old Trafford. The first thing I noticed was the concern over the demise of the self celebrated K-Stand top left. From where I sit in the old B-Stand (South stand) I see pockets of reds in the K top left making gestures and shouting retorts to opposing fans but the devastating wit and repartee that I’m always reading about in UWS is inaudible to me 100 yards away.

The other thing about the worry of the adverse affect on the Old Trafford atmosphere is the belief that opposing fans provide some sort of bouncing post to a great atmosphere at Old Trafford. To me, that is absolute bollocks . When the atmosphere was bouncing in the stretty in the 1980s and the opposing fans that had bothered turning up were at the opposite end of the ground, what was the provocateur for the atmosphere then if we’re so reliant on them being in close proximity ? What about when United played Barcelona in 1984 and the atmosphere was like nothing I heard before or since ? There must’ve been a maximum of 50 Barca fans in the stadium that night. It’s actually quite embarassing that United fans claim to need opposing fans nearby to rouse an atmosphere. Apart from showing a lack of imagination, something I’ve always believed United fans have had in abundance, can anybody tell me what inspiration a load of wooden heads like fans of Stoke, Wigan or Blackburn Rovers provide to creating a good atmosphere ?

19 thoughts on “An argument for the moving of away fans to the United Road third tier”

  1. The best placement of home & away fans I can remember was in the old Kippax at Maine Road, next to pie alley…not sure if you remember, but there was a cage that went from the front of the stand to the back, seperating the fans, which the police would use to go back and forth.
    Throughout the game there would be a steady stream of pies and cups of bovril flying back and forth – if you were brave, tall enough and a good catch, you could get a half decent meal!
    Happy days!
    A good write as ever, and some good points. I think my first reaction would be that moving the away fans would spoil the atmosphere, but as you say, if you’re relying on that for atmosphere – heaven help you!
    A great atmosphere against Chelsea – and I cannot remember actually hearing the Chelsea fans once!

    1. I well remember the gap in the Kippax between the home and away fans. You say there were pies and bovril being launched between rival fans but what I also remember was stones being thrown back and forth to in those glory days of innocense, long before the police ruined it by having CCTV in the ground. When I first heard of the Ken Loach film “Raining Stones” I thought it was about derby day at Maine road

  2. The position of the tourists has no effect on the atmosphere…. Does anyone else remember deafening the smoggies in the Rumbalows Cup semi in 92? The huge, loud away following in scoreboard paddock were no competition for the Stretford End that night!

    1. I do remember that night of monsoon rain and a crowd so loud that the sky cracked. It was the last great night of the Stretford End before it got demolished in the forthcoming summer. I also recall the anomaly of all the clergy and semi retired gangsters that used to populate the main stand actually getting on their feet to encourage the team but the most memorable thing was that traffic beaters that used to always be in the G and H stand actually stayed to the very end of the match.

  3. Nicely balanced argument Murph, but while you correctly point out that we are indeed royally shafted if we have to rely on a bunch of no-marks and bumpkins from the likes of whoever happens to have fumbled their way into the top division Barnsley/Leicester/Coventry/Norwich/City at any given moment, it ignores the fact they do at least provide a catalyst for what’s left of our vocal support to rouse themselves from their normal slumber.

    Without a few numpties directly where we can see them there’s a direct risk our already pathetic atmosphere will be diluted even further, and that surely is the crux of the argument for those who argue this will sound the death knell of the match going experience.

    Actually, the arrival of a group of predatory parasitic Americans in May 2005 is more to blame, together with spiralling ticket prices and all seater happy clappy boredom.

    That said, I can’t for one second imagine that non braindead fans of teams like Newcastle, Wolves or Villa, where away supporters are all housed in absurd positions, wouldn’t prefer to have them better placed to create a bit of an edge to otherwise bland occasions.

    I’ve been in North Stand Tier 3, it’s shit, and would be far better off housing a load of clueless day-trippers and Scandics than ruining the spectacle for visitors, even when that means a load of ambulance chasing, bin dipping, shit flinging, giro claiming, granny stabbing, rat eating vermin from Liverpool.

    If we carry on like this eventually the culture of away fans in football will die out altogether, and hardcore Reds (just like you Murph) will be condemned to afternoons of domestic bliss in the Trafford Centre and the Arndale, and how bad would that be?

    For that reason alone we should oppose any further attempts to marginalise away fans, after all, we need them, just like they need us.

    ps. United are currently in discussions to re-name the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand as the Ralphie Milne Stand. Good news i’m sure you’ll agree.

    1. It may ignore the fact that these nomarks provide a catalyst for atmosphere because they don’t. The atmosphere this season for the matches against Wigan, Stoke and Bolton was lamentable. They were ignored because United fans were bored of engaging with such half wits.
      I like the Glazers as much as you but the spiralling ticket cost and the all seater happy clappy boredom that you correctly allude to, started in earnest in 1992 with the formation of the morally abhorent Premier league and the knee jerk reaction to Hillsborough disaster three years prior. The Taylor report, which decreed that in the interests of safety, all stadia in the top two divisions should be all seater. Where the safety aspect goes for Rugby league matches or rock concerts where you can have 50,000 people boogying in the stands, I don’t know. Then there was the infamous “pricing and visitor policy” which was fronted by Martin Edwards in the Sheffield Wednesday match programme in the 91/92 season where United/Edwards effectively told the fans, over two A5 pages, that if you don’t like it, do one.
      As for the culture of away fans dying out altogether, this is the approaching endgame to a temporary football league ruling in the late 1970s where for a time, all United away games were all ticket due to the shenangans of United fans on the road and humiliation of home clubs having their grounds taken over by United fans. Nowadays, United are having their away ticket allocations cut down to the bare bones on the most spurious of excuses and nobody from Old Trafford is contesting or protesting this.
      Good luck with negotiations for the rechristening of the United Road/North/Sir Alex Ferguson stand to the Ralphie Milne stand. An unsung legend at Old Trafford who big Joe Jordan famously told Alex Ferguson, would win him the title…

  4. Nice to read this. I followed United for three seasons in my teens, Stretford Paddock, then Stretford End, then the other end of the ground while the Stretford End was being seated, and the atmosphere in the first two seasons was fantastic. I watch matches on TV now (I live in Argentina) and unless it’s a big match, it’s very quiet. So it’s enjoyable when teams like West Brom or Sunderland bring fans you can hear. If they move them into a distant corner, it’s just going to be worse. To get atmosphere levels up, lower the prices and make the Stretford End standing. As if…

  5. Where do you start on this topic. Making people sit down or where you locate the aways fans should make no difference to a home atmosphere. You mention Barca in ’84 but some of the other fabled nights of raucous atmosphere were also games where there was little away following, such as Porto in ’77, so it’s nothing to do with the away fans in my opinion, although of course they can add to the nature of the atmosphere if there is a bit of wit and repartee or just downright hostility between the two sets of fans.

    The pricing and the resultant average age and social demographic of the Old Trafford crowd is one of the main reasons for me but again not in isolation. Look when the camera pans around at Old Trafford and in the “season ticket areas” of the old Old Trafford Paddock, United Road is just full of people who are…well my age! We’ve done it seen it and more importantly we educated the youngsters. The last bit is key. We educated the youngsters when we were in our late teens, early twenties. They don’t get educated now because we are all in our 40s/50s and not as vociferous as we once were. Its a lost generation so to speak. The new breed of young uns you see stuck up in the Gods of North Tier 3 and East Tier 2 on the tickets they can get hold of are too remote from the “singing section” in Tier Two of the Stretford End and don’t get indoctrinated into how it used to be and still should be.

    Atmosphere is also nothing to do with the happy clappy CD buying lot that our clubs professional football fans have latched onto and promoted. In fact I reckon this has actually detracted from the atmosphere as no one thinks for themselves any more and everything is just generic and standardised (not just United). Barca’84 is a great example. Watch any highlight and whilst I agree the audio back then was never like today’s Sky coverage, you’ll hardly heard the chants of United over a deafening background noise of just general madness and urging the team on until you were hoarse. There were occasions in the 80s (not many) when I got to Old Trafford late…after 1:30pm for 3pm ko was late by the way…and didn’t get in. I’d walk back to me Nana’s and would listen to Piccadilly 261 with the windows open and would know how United were doing by the crowd noise and knew United had scored before “Its a goal” came on the air. “Oh no” was much more unpredictable as you correctly stated there was just a lull in the noise due to the lack of away fans. The thing was though you heard United attacking because there was a roar when we got the ball (out wide invariably in those days) and surged forwards. Then the noise would dip and a crescendo to either an “ooooh” or a “ROAR” depending on the outcome. Too many in Old Trafford who believe they are creating an atmosphere these days just sing…and usually at some drug/alcohol induced incohorent speed! Otherwise they are silent…where are the wise cracks that used to have the whole stadium (and I appreciate it was a lot smaller and even “intimate” back the 70s/80s) laughing.. There are only two occasions since the Sky age that I can recall a full on laugh rolling round the stands (Ranger with the “Subbuteo you’re having a laff” and recently when Carroll came on for Liverpool and “Are you a man or a woman” started. Both original both witty and specific to the situation…NOT GENERIC. Where did the characters go…the pub as its a lot cheaper.

    1. Bang on with the age demographic at Old Trafford, there’s a generation of kids who grew up on the estate that I grew up on, who have no concept of being a regular matchgoing red. I’m lucky that I’m ten years older in that respect as there’s no way in this world that my parents could’ve afforded my regular attendance if I was growing up in the premier league era. What happened with the kids on my estate is being repeated in Ancoats, Collyhurst, Ordsall, Moss Side etc. If you don’t pick up “the bug” or habit of going to the match by the time you’re 15, chances are, you never will. The average age of regular atttendees to Old Trafford is way too old and there’s nothing being done about it. United are going to regret this neglect of the local fans. When it happens, I can’t say for sure but I’m sure that it will happen.

      1. I wonder in the coming years if the “kids for a quid” at City will make a difference in the age demographic, and in the years when we’ve struggled to sell out, the club has gone out of its way to get kids in (£95 season ticket)… now we are selling out… those ticket offers seem to be disapearing… (Unless that’s what Rio meant by the blues coming out of the woodwork!)

        Good to see sensible chat about football without everyone getting tribal!

        1. Phil,

          It will certainly entice them but as any old school United fan will tell you, the more succesful the club/team are, the more neglected the support will be who were there when the team were shit. Over the years, when City had a shit team, there’d be incentives like the earlier you bought your season ticket, the cheaper it would be. That wasn’t because (as many blue has laughably told me) that the club respected the fans but because they couldn’t take the matchgoing crowds for granted. If City get anything like the success they presently aspire too, then I’ll bet my house that the early season ticket purchase discount will go right out of the window. As for what Rio said, after the 6-1, everywhere I looked, there were them blue and white scarves that Mancini wears frequently, they’ve not been so visble since new year. Every time in my adult life, when City have beaten United, I’ve come across people that I’ve known all my life who have suddenly let it be known that they’re City fans, having previously never offered any comment or proffered any interest in football whatsoever (even at the age of 39, this is still happening). This is obviously not a dig at you, as you have had your head above the parapet since the day I met you and I respect that even if I disagree with a fair few things you say, but what Rio said is a pretty accurate statement of how I see it.

          1. you must be a magnet for them 😉

            I’ve still to spot or come across any “New” city fans, and hate to be the kill joy from the blue side of things – but I still can’t give tickets away!

            See ya soon!

  6. Read the comments on here with interest. No real disagreements, but like to add my view. Until the powers that be relax, give us a ticket for an area of the ground, rather than a specific seat, then we would all benefit. Put the opposition fans where you like, its our GOBS that matter. In the old days it was different (not better), opposition fans could stand where they wanted, (I´m pre ’58) hence the silence in those days. Some rough and ready guys prowling the terraces then, so an away goal would be celebrated with Trappist Monk discipline. The family atomsphere, much encouraged by clubs these days doesn’t give our younger support the chance to let rip in case they make Mummy and Daddy blush. Well f$ck ’em boys and girls its your club and mine. Just make a noise and slip a few in, see how it goes. You never know Mummy might throw a few in herself, and Daddy would be liberated too. Just one more thing. When the ball does go in the net, don’t shout a shrill a child like yeerrss. It’s a goal, so for f$ck sake shout GOOOOAAALLl!!!! It sounds better, feels better and by Jesus does you good. Good topic, murph, I could go on.

    1. The whole point of being young and going to the match is to get away from your parents for a few hours and balloon about. To learn lessons in life that neither parents or teachers can instil, just the experience itself of doing your own thing is/was the education. The football clubs don’t seem to either understand or want this to happen. The embracing of the “family experience” has done nothing but sterilise the atmosphere in most football stadia. On a happier note, I’ve just heard that Wigan have took the lead at Anfield and the sun is shining gloriously today.

  7. Great blog this. As Murph says, very few clubs bar the obvious few mentioned brought many to Old Trafford and the atmosphere though not always rocking could be turned up very loud when required. Stretford had banter with scoreboard, United road with K and Scorebaord paddock.
    Other clubs entertained themselves without needing away fans at times. The Kop and Anfield Road, Northbank & Clock end and the Shelf and Park Lane. Of course its great to have the banter and abuse (to an extent) with opposing fans but theres no reason why we can t create a better atmosphere with or without them.

    The club and Trafford Council in particular have wanted away fans in tier 3 for a while and this decison had been taken a long time before a few us put the idea of a ‘second singing end’ at Old Trafford.. They are not directly linked in some ways we fell lucky appraching club at a time they had the L stand potentialy going spare but believe me, it was luck.
    I’m relocating to L stand next season like many others and we re confident whether away fans are in tier 3 or back at home they will hear us.

  8. Great article. Without wishing to be pedantic though that picture of the
    stretford end is early 90s i reckon. You can tell by the floodlights on the main stand. Early 80s 4 huge pylons !
    Agree entirely with the point regarding Barcelona 84. Without question in my view the best ever atmosphere at OT and ….. no away fans !

  9. First I’ve heared that the council want the fans in the top tier… The reason for the move is money.
    Once the fans have moved, the private boxes in that corner can be made to match the others in that stand (east stand) were they all have an outside balconeys..

  10. Couldn’t agree with you more, and that’s one of the reasons why I believe Anfield can still boast one of the best atmospheres in the premier league, because of that pocket of away fans just a little to the left of the Anfield road end goal. There’s an incredible noise whenever an away team scores at that end, sometimes even more astounding than when Liverpool score at the Kop. There’s almost complete silence whenever an away team scores at Old Trafford if you’re watching the game on TV, to the point where most of the noise you hear is from the celebrating players.

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