Etiquette for Football Spectators Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Etiquette for Football Spectators

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Football1 - the national sport of England, the passion of Brazil, the obsession of the German - is watched by millions week in, week out; both on TV and more importantly, live in the grounds. So, if you are finally ready to put down your TV remote control and join the crowds at the turnstiles, you may be wondering: How are you meant to act? What are you expected to do? Here are just a few general pointers...

Keep Your Seat

Since the Hillsborough disaster, most of the major venues around the world now are all-seater stadiums. So unless you are visiting one of the minor league teams, you can forget about reliving the days on the terraces that your Grandfather enjoyed with 20,000 others on a Saturday afternoon. As the all-seater stadium is encouraging families back to games in the aftermath of the hooligan element which peaked in the 1980s, standing up is liable to upset the father behind you, who is trying to introduce his son or daughter to the beautiful game. He may be a father now but where was he watching football in the 1980s? Take him on at your own risk.

Seating Arrangements

However, the all-seater atmosphere has changed a great deal from the terraces. On the terraces, groups would gather together and be able to lead the whole stand in supporting their teams. These days you are stuck to the same seat week in, week out if you hold a season ticket and you may not actually know who will be sitting beside you2. It may be an occasional fan or one of the new fad of corporate trend-followers. So now you may find yourself isolated from other ardent fans that know all the chants. Or if you are an occasional yet keen fan, you have no guarantee of being anywhere near the really enthusiastic sections of the crowd.

Check Your Calendar

Since the introduction of live matches sold to the highest bidder, the calendar of dates you get at the start of the session are liable to change as the season progresses and more exciting matches are put into the live slots. Not only that but now you have to keep a constant tap on the time the match takes place, as even the ones on Saturdays are liable to have differing kick-off times. Some of these now fit into early morning slots or late evening slots to fit into the television schedules.

Also if your team is involved in European or domestic part competition, plays in a snowy climate or has a history of floodlight problems, you are liable to find extra and/or alternative dates getting shunted into your schedule. So in general, the better or worse your team is, the more likely you are to find the ever-shifting dates in your supporter's diary. The better teams will have to re-arrange league fixtures because they are progressing in cup competitions, the worse because they cannot afford under-soil heating or good floodlights.

Read the Small Print

The most obvious 'Keep off the Pitch' sign that is there to discourage pitch invasions3 is now seen at every major sporting event. This has been ardently adhered to especially in England v Scotland games at Wembley after the Scots made off with the turf and most of the goal posts after a famous victory in 1967, against the World Champions. However, the famous white horse from the first Wembley FA cup final was there to control an over-full, rather than a riotous faction. There are numerous other examples of notices that need to be obeyed...

No Glass Bottles or Cans

This is for the health and safety of all concerned and your bags will be checked upon entrance to the venue. After all, we don't want you to be involved in a fight because of an ill-thrown or dropped bottle4. If you did manage to get the bottle away, be sure that the police will be down into your section swiftly and you will be condemned to watch the remainder of the match quite possibly from inside a police cell, or not at all.

No Foul or Abusive Language

If the players use this they will be shown a yellow card. However, in some stadiums there is now a zero tolerance policy5 and you could be ejected from the ground straight away. So read the programme notes carefully as this will be where you will get the information, as you will probably be too busy using foul language at the opposition when it is announced over the tannoy.

Leave the Stadium Quietly, Do Not Disturb Our Neighbours

This is especially important after an evening match as most football stadiums are still located in their traditional location in the centre of the working class areas of town. The local residents do put up with a lot from the local club, disruption to parking arrangements on match days and the hoards of supporters wandering past their homes to and from matches. The last thing they need, especially after an evening match is a raucous departure from the stadium. Of course you want to celebrate if your team has won, but at a late hour in the evening do this at the stadium, as at least there, the sound is somewhat muffled.

Don't Throw

Okay, some items can seemingly be thrown without causing harm when they land, such as toilet roll and balloons; however even these can be seen as a hazard on the field of play. Balloons and rolls of tissue paper can cause slippage and sliding, causing players to possibly injure themselves. If you do decide to throw these items there is a 50 per cent chance it will hurt one of your own side.

However, of far greater significance are hard or fiery objects. Objects such as bottles are already banned from most major stadiums basically because a glass bottle is too easily smashed and able to become a lethal weapon. One hard object that is ever impossible to ban and which has been an object of great contention in recent years is coinage. Coins obviously cannot be banned as spectators are going to need to be able to pay for their journey home or a snack afterwards. Coins are small and can be hurled great distances at substantial velocity and will not be seen until the last minute or too late on the field of play. One Scottish Cup game had to be abandoned when the referee Hugh Dallas was hit on the head by a coin, which rendered him temporarily unconscious. Be warned if you are a potential coin-throwing spectator you may no longer be safe; as demonstrated in 2002 by Jamie Carragher, a player for Liverpool. In a moment of insanity he actually threw a coin that had been lobbed towards him back into the crowd. Even if your target didn't throw your money back at you, be aware that the police will happily use CCTV to catch up with troublemakers.

Another potentially lethal object that gets thrown particularly in the steamy Mediterranean leagues are flares. These for a start are flaming and with fire you can never be 100 per cent sure of the consequences. They also are alight for quite a long time and the resultant smoke has at times caused irritation to players, particularly goalkeepers who cannot get away from the area. However, the police in such areas are quite within their rights to respond with tear gas and water cannons if the crowd becomes to raucous, so think before getting involved in Police taunting in Italy or Spain or the like.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a great many bananas were thrown unto football pitches. These were primarily thrown in the vicinity of black players, who at this stage were starting to appear in the top teams. They are now established players and indeed many now appear regularly in the National sides. There are of course still patches of racist spectators, but the league is campaigning to stamp these out. So dispose of your banana skin in the bin provided and not onto the pitch.

The Man in the Middle

No matter which team you are supporting it is inevitable that at some point during the match the referee will make a decision that you feel has not gone the way of your team. Normally from this point on, the referee, who is more than likely quite a respectable man if you meet him on the street, becomes a person of questionable parentage or worse. These days the top European leagues employ these men in black to take your abuse and control your matches. They are assessed as rigorously as any profession, if not more so, as they carry out their jobs in front of the TV cameras and lights.

He is ably assisted from the sidelines by two assistants, at present still part timers most of the place. These men however are up close and personal to the spectators, this should not make them easy prey. They are there as is the referee to ensure that the rules of the game are adhered to fairly. If they make a decision against your team, they should be in a better position to judge what has happened than you, especially if you are in the back row of the upper stand. Don't take it out on them, wait to see the highlights on TV and on the vast majority of occasions if you take an objective view you will see that they are correct in the calls they have made.

Travelling Away

Often seen as a good excuse to get the beers in, the away trip and spectator are now being far more heavily policed than ever before. Why? Because of a history of visiting fans running amok, tearing up the town they are visiting, getting involved in street brawls and harming or killing those who stand against them. Away fans are often very carefully shepherded to and from the ground especially in hot spots, so if you are entering a particularly tense area (especially on European Club competition travels) be prepared to be left in the stadium until the home fans have been dispersed and then get shepherded straight to your transport home. Football governing bodies have in the past moved matches or banned spectators if there has been too great a history of violence to allow it to progress, as they should. So take a lesson from the fans of Liverpool and Juventus, who despite being the two sets of fans involved in the most high profile football tragedy, at the Heysel Stadium in 1984, on the European stage have now formed alliances of trust and respect6. Football is a sport and shouldn't end in injury or death on the terraces.

Travelling Back Home

After the match you will either be exceedingly happy as your team has secured a great away win, or you will be disappointed, as you have suffered a defeat. Either way it is best not to take out you exuberance or frustration on the innocent people in the town of your rival team, or fellow travellers. In other words don't destroy property or harm bystanders on your egress from the ground. However, the following are some of inconveniences that have been made to non-spectators by fans after the match.

  1. Cars - Most grounds have historically been built near the working class terraced housing of the town, because this was the target crowd. Therefore all the residents will have to park their cars on the streets around the ground. So don't deliberately knock their mirrors, scrape their paintwork or in other ways damage their car. It is already possibly an inconvenience to them that they are virtually sealed in while a match is on7.

  2. Homes and gardens - The residents around the ground are like you and put a great deal of time and effort into their house and garden. They do not want to come out after the crowd has dispersed to find plants missing from their gardens, or have police cones or other objects thrown into their gardens. They also may have left their bins out on the night of your match waiting for collection, so don't drag their bin halfway down the street or set it alight.

  3. Shops and bars - Many local shops and bars may actually ban football colours - the reason for this is because of the nuisance that has been caused in the past by your fellow spectators, and a blanket ban is so much easier to enforce on a match day. So, yet again to avoid there being more places you cannot enter in future, respect any such establishment you can get into as if it was your local version of the same.

  4. Trains and buses - Ever been stuck at a station to here the announcement that your train has been cancelled because of lack of rolling stock? This is often because a group of football spectators on their way back from a match has taken over a carriage and left it in such a poor state that it has had to be withdrawn from service while it is repaired and cleaned. You can often see carriages with shattered glass and ripped seats sitting in depot sidings and their incidence does tend to increase after match days. So if you want to get to work the following day, respect the means of transport that is taking you there and back.

Of course there are some perfectly acceptable ways to behave on the way back from a match. If your team has won there is no one going to begrudge you a little celebration. Hanging your scarf out of the window of the bus or car is common practise as long as there is no danger of it obstructing anyone's view or getting caught in any moving parts. Just don't get so enthusiastic that you start hurling abuse at any of the poor opposition fans who have to travel the same way home as yourself. There are enough cases of road rage out there at present without inciting someone to start another as they head home suffering from the defeat.

The Mascots

Many teams these days have taken to employing team mascots, fully grown men or women dressed in outlandishly large and sweaty costumes. Of all the elements of a football match these days these mascots do deserve a little bit of jocular ribbing. They are after all there to encourage the home fans. Get the kids to come along, support and get involved. They can be seen in the warm up literally warming up the crowd, getting them excited, as after all they can easily now just sit back and fall asleep. How some of these mascots can manage to see, kick and accurately direct a football with those large feet is beyond this Researcher, unless it is a pension scheme for one of the clubs hard done by ex-players. They do, however, add a certain entertainment element to the bits of matches when before all you could do was go and get the pies.

Food and Drink

Don't expect cordon bleu food, unless you are visiting Norwich and experience the wonders of their director Delia Smith. Standard fare in Britain is pies and Bovril; we need it for the winter months to stop all the fans getting frostbite. There have recently been surveys done to find out where the best pies are prepared so check these out if you are lead by the stomach and not the heart in choosing your team. Alternatively, go in for the corporate boxes which can be rented at most stadia now, for a special occasion or one off event8. However if you are stuck down in the stands, be warned if you want to eat at half time; have a rota system with your mates as to who is going to leave before the whistle and queue up for the pies, possibly missing some of the action.

Toilet Facilities

As with the pie-sellers, these tend to get busy both at half time and the end of the match. The only ways to avoid this congestion and see the entire match is to ensure you go before kick off and keep off the Bovril and pies during the match. The only other way to get around it is to judge a point in the match when you think nothing is going to happen and make a dash for it.

This leads on to the service provided. Ladies, don't expect there to be a great deal of toilets available for you, you are after all at what has been until quite recently more or less a male preserve. Although some of the newer stands have upped the proportion of facilities for the female spectator there is still a lot of work to be done. As for the gents, standards vary but you imagine what the result of 10,000 - 70,000 men all wanting to use a toilet about 1.2 times on average9 in just over two hours and you need not tell by the resulting stench at the end of 90 minutes of football. Best advice: if you have to go, go early.

The Most Important Thing

Have fun! Bill Shankley is famously credited with saying 'Football is not a matter of life of death, it's far more important than that', however win or lose, your team is likely to be around for some time yet, there will be mountains to climb, triumphs to savour, but the game will go on.

1Soccer to our American friends.2If you are a Manchester United fan, it may be the same accent as last week but a different fan, as local supporters clubs from across Europe group together to buy groups of season tickets for Old Trafford.3Along with the hundreds of stewards and police officers to ensure it does its job.4We can't all have the accuracy of a World Darts Champion after a few pints on the stage.5Notably Livingston in the Scottish Premiership.6The Juventus crest features on many travelling Liverpool flags.7Having spent a year living next to Highfield Road Coventry the Researcher was thankful to have had an off road parking bay.8Or the whole season if you win the lottery.9This statistic is a pure guess based on the assumption that some men will need to dispose of copious amounts of alcohol during proceedings, while others have to drive the kids home.

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