Apparently the “Theater of Dreams” has not been very dreamy of late.
Manchester United, eager to bring the club in line with the ebullient atmospheres of European clubs, has hired a “specialist” to help provide an extra boost at Old Trafford. The audio consultant, who was present at the stadium for United’s 2-1 victory over Liverpool this past January, is planing to attend another match before the season is out.
The impetus for bringing in the specialist are the nearly 15,000 fans who pack Old Trafford’s famed Stretford End, who have become increasingly crestfallen with the lack of noise inside the nation’s largest stadium. “There were supporters in the Stretford End who thought they had made a lot of noise only for friends in different parts of the ground to say they couldn’t hear them,” a United source told the Manchester Evening News.
The club initially tried to tackle the problem by creating a ‘singing section’ in the newly-named Sir Alex Ferguson Stand. The section was planned to be similar to the ‘Red Action’ section at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. While many may laugh at the idea that United was taking atmosphere tips from group in a stadium renowned for its modern comfort and not it’s operatic noise, the Red Devils were nevertheless forced to scrap the plan due to safety and security fears.
Like most crowd issues in England, it all comes back to the 1989 Hillsborough Disaster. Specifically, United feared that housing fans in the top tier could cause the stand to “flex” during active unifying celebrations like Manchester City’s ‘Poznan’ adaptation. United claim they continue to remain committed to moving away supporters from their current location but the task is proving difficult.
United supporters blame the hushed atmosphere at Old Trafford on the increase of corporate and tourist guests. There’s little doubt that this issue is affecting not only Old Trafford but every major sporting venue across the globe. Rising ticket prices and a slumped economy mean that only those with the deepest pockets can afford to attend a match. And those flush with cash much prefer to sit quietly in the stands with their peacoat buttoned high, legs crossed and silk scarf blowing in the wind. These gentlemen aren’t ripping off their shirts and belting out supporters chants.
But in England the problem is much deeper than snooty and potentially disinterested guests. The problem begins and ends with ridiculously tight security. Yellow Jackets flood the aisles, diffusing any potential for uproar between opposing fans even when it’s harmless banter. Merely standing up at a Premier League game puts you at risk of being removed. Heck, taking pictures with your camera phone can land you in trouble. Banners aren’t permitted to be flown freely and instead must be strategically placed against cement walls.
Fact is, the security at Premier League matches isn’t changing and the atmosphere at Old Trafford will never be like Galatasaray’s Turk Telekom Arena or Red Star Belgrade’s Marakana Stadium. But advancements can be made. And more than anything it’s up to the supporters to band together, figure out the security loopholes and access them. Maybe it’s time United supporters looked to their brothers across the pond in places like Portland and Seattle, where some pretty notable “specialist” lay.