There has been much said about the atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium in recent weeks and with it being such a hot topic I decided I would take a look as to why it may not be the best in the country.
I think it’s fair to say that the Etihad doesn’t enjoy a cordial relationship with its atmosphere. On some occasions, the crowd has been loud and audible throughout the 90 minutes of a match – namely the big games in which the fans really can get going. But week in week out there are complaints about how quiet the crowd are, not only from fans themselves, but from players and Pep Guardiola.
Understandably the boss wants the match-goers to get behind his side much more, but there are certain issues that are hindering the enthusiasm of supporters wanting to get behind their side. These issues aren’t exclusive to City though – this is a problem throughout English football and the atmosphere at City isn’t quite as bad as people make out, nor is it worse than most clubs in top-flight English football.
A significant amount of effort has gone into improving the atmosphere from fan movements such as the 1894 Group, who have made some progress, but even they recognise that there’s still a long way to go before the Etihad is rocking. In fairness, the club have shown a willingness to try and help them, but some of the solutions offered haven’t been met with much love by the fans (drums, bands etc). Ultimately there’s still more that the club can do and need to do if the atmosphere is to improve markedly.
Whilst our away support isn’t phenomenal, it’s much better than that at home and surely there’s a reason for that?
For a start, the whole allocation is able to stand at away games. Granted, not as per the ground regulations, but it’s hard to get thousands of supporters to sit on their designated seats. Obviously no one would suggest the whole stadium should be standing – that would be ridiculous – but currently the unofficial standing sections are limited and those that stand in other areas are picked on.
At the Etihad, it’s becoming more and more apparent that there’s some kind of bully tactic going on from Showsec, the crowd management and security group employed by City. The stewarding methods implemented just aren’t working and have resulted in many fans turning against them. They appear to pick their targets based on those who are least likely to fight back. For example, in Block 109 many stand in order to try and create some sort of atmosphere. What do Showsec do? They turf out a small amount of these so called ‘persistent standers’ yet leave others untouched. So whilst the club try and promote a stadium with atmosphere, they also massively prohibit it by handing out these instructions to Showsec – a page on the Showsec website clearly states that their “security services are tailored to meet the requirements of the club”.
You only need to search “Showsec” on Twitter to see the opinions on their heavy handed stewarding:
In other news, Showsec chucking out two old ladies despite 100s standing up isn’t really on is it.
— Jessica Pringle (@jessicalouise19) January 2, 2017
— Amanda Robinson (@AJR66) January 2, 2017
Another area where the club are letting down their working class fans is the ever-increasing hospitality sections. It’s expanding by the season, and more and more blocks are taken up by the corporates that will give the club the most money. Joe’s Bar, 93:20, The Tunnel Club – three new additions of hospitality that will leave more seats untouched by those who want to create an atmosphere. Whilst the desire for additional revenues is understandable, the less well-off fans are being replaced by the good old ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ that are able to pay more than the rest of us (oh, and they get away tickets regardless of points). No offence to those in the new areas, you may be alright, but the point is still valid on the whole.
The new Tunnel Club is a whole different topic. Manchester City present the new area as ‘the ultimate fan experience’, truly immersing fans into what goes on behind the scenes on a matchday. One problem, though, is it isn’t actually for most supporters – these fans won’t ever get a chance of experiencing it, so it’s yet another hospitality area that will benefit only the well-off. Supporters who have been in particular blocks for years will now have to move in order to make way for the new breed of supporters, whilst fans this season have seen their available entrances cut in half due to the emergence of a wall through the concourse, resulting in large queues upon entering the ground.
Look at this. City should be trying to recreate this at the etihad rather than building glass tunnels for vips pic.twitter.com/oEUTHtnjyH
— City On Tour (@City_On_Tour) January 4, 2017
Whilst City try and take the credit for the singing section, this was an idea pursued by the 1894 Group despite being ignored multiple times by the club. However, the club did eventually go along with it once 1894 Group put it into the public domain and applied pressure.
However, it’s not quite worked as we would have hoped. A mixture of factors have led to this, such as people not following through with the move to the singing section, those priced out that now reside in South Stand level 3, and people not willing to sing. There is also the fact that there is a corporate section right in the middle of it, on the second tier.
If much is to change there then the fans need to get involved with the work going on in those areas. Although you may not necessarily agree with all the ideas, such as drums, others are great and can really help get the crowd going.
Ever-increasing ticket prices
Reduced ticket prices in particular areas of the stadium have led to many relocating to level 3 of the South Stand. Many of these were singers previously located in lower levels and who have been priced into a move to cheaper areas. You could ask the question, if those singers are now in South Stand level 3, then why are they not singing as much as you’d expect? The answer to that is simple and heads back to the argument of Showsec and ground regulations. Fans simply can’t stand up – well, they can, but face eviction by the stewards and police force, so it isn’t as easy as it sounds to create a rocking atmosphere.
Ticket prices being reduced across all areas of the ground could help some kind of atmosphere be rediscovered at Manchester City, attracting those that have been priced out of purchasing a season ticket since the move to the Etihad Stadium back in 2003. Many simply can’t afford it, resulting in long-time fans giving up their seat in favour of watching on the TV at their local boozer for half the price, or from the comfort of their own home.
Granted on average, City season tickets are some of the cheapest, but the average price is brought down massively by the South Stand expansion. A season in Block 111 would set an adult back £600, which is why many of the singers, who previously created atmosphere, will have relocated to Level 3 (where season tickets are as cheap as £299), or have quit going altogether. Reduced season ticket prices for the rest of the ground could bring back fans who have stopped attending and convince those who relocated to return to singing blocks. Instead, currently, many seats are occupied by those more wealthy, who have no real interest in the club’s history and incredible support over the years, or day trippers that only discovered the club a few years back. With this in mind, it’s unfair that fingers are pointed at the supporters by the club, players and staff when relevant issues are preventing a buzz around the Etihad.
Ticket Exchange system
Before I finish and whilst we’re on the topic of utilising interest in the club for commercial greed – has anyone used the in-house ticket exchange system? It’s a well known fact that City are actively taking an interest in unofficial ticket exchange platforms and banning some of those users who attempt to sell via them. What the club would much rather you do, and what they are trying to push you towards, is selling your ticket through their official ticketing exchange. Whilst on the surface it was a good idea that would save someone hassle if they can’t attend a game, it’s actually quite a sly money-making scheme. Manchester City will offer you a 19th of the cost of your season ticket for your match ticket – sounds reasonable, right?
That’s until you actually realise they are selling your ticket for face value of that particular match. They will give you £31 for your ticket (if it actually sells – they are very careful to market yours last, so they don’t miss out on any sales) and sell it for as much as £58. Yep, that’s right, a profit of £27 at absolutely no risk to the club. You receive your money back (which comes in the form of a 1/19 reduction on your season ticket next year – there’s no cash alternative) once they’ve managed to sell your ticket. If they don’t manage to sell it, for whatever reason, you get nothing and you lose the chance to sell through other means.
It’s important to recognise that most of these issues aren’t just faced at City, they’re common across the league. Atmospheres are dying across England. Crowds now sing for around 20 minutes of a game and this is now lauded as commendable – great support. The definitive answer though, is a tough one to find. But surely, now is the time to introduce safe standing – a scheme that has been thoroughly tested for its safety and has had an overwhelming positive effect on atmospheres at Celtic Park and in the Bundesliga. There has been murmurs regarding its introduction in recent months but let’s face it – if it has any chance of being implemented it’s going to need the full support of the Football Assocation and a large majority of the Premier League clubs. The demand is there from the fans, and it’s time the authorities/clubs listened.