Why Andy Naylor Is (Mostly) Wrong

Good ratings at the Argus this week as Andy Naylor’s latest piece of clickbait went viral. To be fair to Andy it has also spawned plenty of debate among Albion fans in various other media such as North Stand Chat, Twitter and Facebook. He’s clearly touched a nerve. But does he have a point?

The article can be condensed in to three points, always handy when you’re discussing football. Firstly that to help the team get over the promotion finish line the crowd needs to play its part. Indeed to be the twelfth man. We need to turn up and we need to crank up the noise. I don’t really think anyone is disputing that this would be a good thing. Being at a packed, noisy Amex as we’ve seen for both home playoff games (and indeed all the Palace games) or the Arsenal cup games is far more exciting as a fan than a half dead midweek fixture such as Wigan last season. If it gives us a boost, imagine what it does for the players. His central point is correct, if obvious. But how do you get people to read something that is patently correct and obvious? If you’re Andy then you stab them in the back.

You do so firstly by inferring that Brighton fans are turning their back on the team, just as we’re looking like we have a shot of automatic promotion. Andy labours over the attendance at the Reading game. His second point, and one that goes on for far too long without justification, is that the attendance for that game was “poor” and that pointing it out on Twitter just led to “excuses”. Extraordinarily he compares it unfavourably with the Sheffield Wednesday game and our away turn out against MK Dons without realising these games were a massive factor in the turnout.

The Reading game was Category A – that’s the most expensive. Compared to that the Sheffield Wednesday game had a ticket deal, where many seats in the areas that were deserted against Reading were on sale for just ten pounds. Meanwhile, MK, as we know, priced their away tickets amazingly at twelve pounds for adults and kids for a quid. Seven thousand Albion fans lapped up this offer creating our biggest away day for years. Cheap tickets, Saturday 3pm kick off and a one off event created by both factors and clever marketing. Then you had Reading. Full price, rearranged twice, virtually zero opposition fans to generate atmosphere and a week after the dullest game the Amex has seen all season. If you have a limited budget, or a family or work life that dictates you pick and choose your games, which would you pick? The Reading game attendance wasn’t poor, it was higher than most of our rivals have mustered all season despite less than three hundred away fans and ticket pricing bordering on the insane.

Andy finally twists the knife in a bit further by stating that

“The best example of home support is the most painful of all for an Albion fan, Palace at Selhurst Park.”

Great to see this myth propagated by supposedly one of our own, one whose job means he visits Selhurst once in a blue moon. No Andy, a few black clad teenagers with a drum, a bog-roll display and goal music isn’t atmosphere. It’s a drum and some bog-roll.

That statement, of course, is cynically intended to get the article read and responded to on social media, and since I’m still responding he clearly had a great day at the office. It is, however, insulting to many other football fans, not only of Brighton and should be beneath a proper journalist.

Are Palace really better than the incredible numbers who turn up to Plymouth or Pompey, two teams who nearly died, in League Two? Has anyone watched Leicester this season? Their atmosphere is incredible, showing what can be done with the much derided clackers (no, please don’t resurrect them Paul). Are Palace louder than Stoke, Spurs or West Ham? Not for me. And how many did they have roaring them to Championship success? Fourteen, fifteen, nineteen thousand max. You can argue what you like about the noise coming from bigger clubs but to state that Palace are the best example of home support in the country is laughable. Argus ratings one, reality nil.

Recently I was on The Albion Roar and we discussed timings of games that have been rearranged by Sky to death. One of my points was that, in this day and age, you are on very thin ground when mocking attendance figures. You risk thumbing your nose at fans for not paying sixty or seventy quid for a ticket, or not being able to travel the length of the country on a Monday, Tuesday or Thursday night. You risk deriding people for missing five o’clock kick offs as there are in the Europa league or suddenly not being able to go to a game that has been rearranged twice, as with Reading. It is not the fans who we should be having a pop at, it’s the system and the game, one that is in danger of eating itself.

So yes, Andy, we do need the fans to turn up and make some noise. But in this day and age, what’s needed for that isn’t just a successful team. It’s reasonably and consistently priced tickets and Saturday 3pm kick offs. Maybe someone with a journalistic platform could turn their attention to campaigning for both?

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Sky To Introduce Inflatable Away Fans

 

In a move that is set to revolutionise the televising of football matches in the United Kingdom, Sky have announced that they have purchased an army of “realistic looking” inflatable fans who will take the place of away supporters at matches where the kickoff time has been changed, in order to present a “more credible experience” to the television viewer.

Roger Cockwomble, Sky’s Head Of Consumer Experience said that the convincing looking fans will be dressed in replica shirts and “tied to seats with a piece of string, in case it’s a bit windy.”

Mr Cockwomble continued “there’s nothing more disappointing for the television viewer to be greeted with than the sight of empty seats just because someone had to change to kickoff time to 10pm on a Thursday. 10pm on Thursdays is currently a ‘free slot’ for our hordes of viewers and we wanted to make their experience as close to the real thing as possible.”

“Of course, this could make it hard to get back for away fans, especially when you choose Newcastle v Bournemouth as we have next week. Out ‘inflatable army’ will maximise the atmosphere potential.”

When asked what sort of noise the inflatable away end would make, Mr Cockwonble replied “we have recently headhunted a new Under Head Of Consumer Experience, Julian Thundertwat, fresh from his work revolutionizing Football League coverage at Channel Five. His suggestion was just to record a choir mumbling something inaudible to the tune of Sloop John B. Except for when it’s Palace. Then we’ll just play three year old St Pauli songs.”

Mr Cockwoble continued “Julian did have another idea, which was to put a sofa in the away end for ‘special’ real fans and get them pizza at half time, just like they were actually at home watching Sky, but we rejected that as too ridiculous.”

 

Brentford at Home – Prawn Sandwich 

When we’re talking Modern Football there’s nothing that quite vexes me like corporate hospitality. Those two words go along with “the football” as well as “new iPhone” goes with “bath full of lemonade”. And yet it doesn’t. These days it is what keeps many clubs going if we’re honest. The Albion have just posted the sort of corporate finance figures that show that, while David Burke did go, Tony will never get rid of Paul Barber. Having been a harsh critic on these pages you have to tip your hat to that sort of financial performance. It may even mean we can get some new players, because the squad depth was badly exposed again yesterday, but without the revenues from the lounges the rest of us would be watching worse football still. Or no football.

So what exactly was my dilemma? I belong on a terrace wearing Adidas trainers. And some other stuff, obviously, otherwise I’d be freezing and get arrested. But the trainers are the thing. I literally cannot remember the last time I have been to a game and not worn them. Perhaps a mid week game when I had to come straight from work. I’m not sure. However, in the 1901 Club they are verboten. There is a collar and shoes dress code. When I was younger I made it a rule to avoid night clubs that had similar dress codes for the fairly obvious reason that they were rubbish, overpriced lager palaces with terrible music and erection sections. But not quite all the time. When certain friends wanted to go then I did because being with my friends was more important than my musical and drinking prejudices. This is how I found myself in the 1901 yesterday, and before that dressing in a shirt and shoes for the football. Because a very good friend had free lounge passes. Free is my favourite price. And my very good friend shares a love of football, music, food, drinking and banter. A reminder that sometimes it’s good to break your own rules.

It was coincidental that The Boy was missing his first Saturday home game of the season, due to a birthday party on the other side of Sussex. So we had a boys day, a jolly boys outing, a day on the sauce. If you are looking for an insightful and factual account of the game I would stop right now. The painful irony is that yesterday I had the best view I have ever had of a football match and yet I can barely remember most of it. An opportunity wasted. Literally.

We started with the best of intentions. We were back to mine after the game for curry and wine with our wives and so we thought we’d take it easily. That, frankly, lasted until we got to The Cyclist and my friend had drained his Cruzcampo almost before we’d sat down. And, if you can’t beat them, join them. The night before we had played badminton together and my friend had said his dad was meeting us at the ground. “You’ll like my dad. He likes drinking.” Before I could even meet Dad however Dick’s Bar had worked its magic and drawn us in, as if it were one of Brighton’s more interesting and bohemian pubs rather than a strip lit bar at a football ground. Two down we met my friend’s dad and his mate and went to the lounge. Now we were four.

Four is the ideal number for drinking in rounds. I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here. Two can and do drink in rounds of course but it’s not a proper round. It’s two friends at a pub. With three of you there is a tricky decision to be made as to if you stop at three pints or move on to a much more dangerous six. But with four of you a pleasant afternoon can be whiled away over beers without getting either too wasted or staying too sober. Only, of course, we’d already had a couple.

So what can I say about that ultimate evil necessity The Lounge? Well, it was very nice. You can see instantly why people do it. No queues. A proper knife and fork for your pie. Alan Mullery lurking silverly in the background. Glass glasses. BRANDED glasses. As I imagined the bulk of my friends battling in on a train bantering with the large away support, or struggling through traffic on their coach, I was sat with a proper pint in a proper glass round a table that wasn’t unlike the ones you get at dinners at smart hotels. When I went to get my round in the young girl behind the bar looked distraught when I ordered two Harveys. “I’m terribly sorry” she sighed “but do you mind them in Guinness glasses as we’re out of Harvey’s ones?” She looked like she was about to sob. I resisted the temptation to yell “ACTUALLY YES, I DO MIND. WHAT HAS THIS PLACE COME TO? NO BRANDED GLASSES? BRING ME PAUL BARBER SO I CAN DICTATE AN IMMEDIATE EMAIL TO HIS FACE!” Instead I just said “that will be fine”. And smiled at her. The poor love seemingly had no idea that I can usually spend over 10 minutes queuing only to find no beer or pie at all.

Just as the lounge is lovely so are the seats. An amazing view, right behind the managers. The seats even wider. Even more padded. And that’s where it gets a bit hazy. Brentford seemed to have more of the ball. We seemed to have the better chances. They scored from their only chance of the first half via a massive deflection. We squandered a couple of good ones, Calde shooting straight at the keeper when through on the angle. Brentford played the sort of high line that a decent striker combined with a linesman who knows the rules should be exposing over and over. We had neither.

And here’s why I love football. Whether you are in the best seats in the house in your best shirt or behind the goal in your trainers and other stuff you will have an opinion on the game. That opinion will be strong whether you are a member of a Temperance Society or, frankly, quite pissed. Mine, and my friend’s dad was that we had generally been the better side and had been unlucky. My friend’s (and Mark who I normally sit with agrees with this) was that we were poor. Very poor. I’m offering both sides because, honestly, when it comes down to it, yesterday was a day out on the piss more than it was a sporting occasion. And there’s nothing “modern football” about that, it’s what I did for years.

 

Wigan at Home 2014 / 15 Season – Just Another Game

Recently there has been a good deal of negativity surrounding the on pitch achievements, or rather lack of them, and I freely admit to contributing. I’m a glass half empty sort of chap but what really struck me was not how many people were telling me I was wrong but rather how many were going a lot further. Eleven league games without a win and a point off relegation after 15 league games isn’t a little blip; it’s where you deserve to be.

There will be no negativity this time because yesterday allowed me to fall back in love with football – or rather to fall back in love with going to football. There has been some debate recently around this article on Football 365 by John Nicholson that atmosphere at the football is permanently dead, with attendees (and that’s a deliberate choice of words) who would “rather eat pizza and look at their phones”. Nicholson has a point, a large one at that. Naturally the more expensive and corporate football becomes, the more it loses its edge. But it’s also true that there are more distractions and competition for attention than ever before, from playing at being Rooney et al on X-Box to watching the effing X-Factor at 3 in the afternoon in your pants, because Delay TV allows you to.

So the reason for my negativity is this: if we continue to fail to deliver on the pitch the effing XFactor will win and all that financial prudence and academy creating will be for nothing as we disappear up our own deficit. We needed to win last night, but not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away. We needed to win it for the rugby club types who leave on 82 minutes kissing cheeks and blocking play. We needed to win it for the bloke who can’t quite decide between us in the flesh and Chelsea on the telly. We needed to win it for the City investor who bought his seat and seat licence as an asset, an investment, trusting that we really were Premier League Ready. We needed to win it for the dad taking his son even though he, himself, doesn’t like the game and is taking his issue out of duty. We needed to win it for the sponsors in the 1901. And we did.

For me though it was a night redolent of the old school days at The Goldstone. No, I’m not about to indulge in the ultimate old-timer pastime of donning the rose tinted specs and proselytising about how rocking the Goldstone always was, because it wasn’t. In fact some of my fondest memories of The Goldstone were when it wasn’t rocking at all. I would leave work (at the time in Brighton town centre luckily enough) and go straight for a pint with a mate or two. I would saunter up to the ground in my own time. I would take my regular place about ten minutes before kick off and notice that each stand was about half full. I would sing, but I would have enough room to move around, and no one complaining that I was making a noise. And that’s just how it was last night.

I met a mate who normally goes a couple of times a season with his company who are regular sponsors. We left work (at my own home luckily enough) and we had a couple of beers at Brighton station. We sauntered on to a train, no queue, and then we had a couple more at the ground, having been joined by another friend. We watched a fairly poor game, which I had no expectation of winning, against another side destined for the lower half of The Championship. We got to our seats just before kick off and noticed that the stands were about half full. We made noise and no one complained. It was just like being home again.

And this is the really shitty thing about modern corporate football. If someone had told me that we’d be kicking around mid-table in the Championship, that our crowds would vary as they always have, that I could get to and from the ground easily and drink by the station without being confronted by a line of police I would have said “great, where do I sign”. All of the above I recognise well. But of course, these days you can’t. You have to be “Premier League Ready” and have “one ambition”. There needs to be a mission statement and a strap line, not for the dedicated fans who go to every game, home and away, but for the Rugby Club bore and the plastic Chelsea fan and the dedicated dad and the sponsors, especially the sponsors. So expectations are raised. And when they are not met you are accused of being negative and ungrateful and having a pop when all you’re doing is writing what the sponsors and the rugby club bores are thinking, and voting with their feet.

I liked the Amex last night. The atmosphere was BETTER than normal, certainly for a game against a team who only brought 167 fans. That’s because everyone who was there wanted to be there because they cared about the club and the team and the players, not just whether we’d be playing Man Utd next season.

The game? Don’t expect a serious report. We scored a nice goal very early on. Elliot Bennett showed good touches. Walton was excellent. We were a lot more compact and Wigan, while having a lot of the ball, had far less cutting edge than us. And that’s it. I was paying just as much attention to my friends as the game you see. And I’d had a few. Just like the old days.