In the halcyon days when we were losing at home in the Premier League and, bar the flying formations of seagulls swooping for the remains of Balti pies and discarded, overpriced hot dogs, there was very little to do other than watch whether Moyes unfolded his arms whilst sat glum on the bench.
However, there was often another source of interest during that period. Whilst stamping your feet and blowing into your hands to fend off the freeze from the North Sea which had been uninterrupted by any sense of excitement a splinter of noise erupted from the South West corner. Another soul had been picked out by the fluorescence of the stewards for excessive standing.
Now the stewards were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing. The club had instructed them exactly as they should have. The EPL could impose restrictions on clubs where there is excessive standing. In defence of both club and stewards they were protecting the interests of the club. However, when the chant of “Fuck off you stewards, we’ll stand if we want” rang out I can’t deny a sense of pride at those willing to take a stand to protect their ownership of the matchday experience. Nobody asked them if they wanted to leave behind the camaraderie of “the cage” in the Fulwell End. They were forced into sitting down, behaving themselves.
Football has a bad reputation amongst non-football fans. Gentleman’s game played by hooligans etc. We have long bemoaned the heavy-handed attitude of those in authority towards football fans. The vast majority of us would never dream of causing trouble at a match. And rightly so. Families come to watch the match and it is what provides the long term fan base for the club. To be lumped in as a non descript football thug just because I choose to watch the sport I love is insulting.
My son sits alongside me at the match, a season ticket holder. I find myself in my middle-aged spread tutting at excessive use of vernacular. In days passed we could have just walked away. Now I have to sit all match with my son hearing pretty much every single Sunderland player being compared to a vagina.
It was with great joy that I therefore greeted two pieces of news on Monday. Firstly, that Spurs, in their resplendent new stadium fit for the modern game, have planned in an area which can easily be converted to standing should there be a rule change. The second was that Parliament agreed to launch a review of safe standing at football matches.
This is a breakthrough. I know that many like to sit at the match. I would never seek to take that away from them, but there are those who prefer to stand. Their choice was ripped from them as a result of the knee jerk reaction to the Hillsborough disaster. Post Hillsborough all football fans were classified in the same way. The press that followed was a disgrace. We are not all animals. We are mostly capable of controlling our behaviour.
This coming season will see an opportunity for us to revisit the terraces on our travels. To take on that traditional standing position. Will we want to give it up so easily once we have seen how much it can add to the atmosphere? How a flexible arrangement with regards to gathering those who want to sing their hearts out together whilst still allowing others to watch from the side lines makes perfect sense? I doubt it. We will remember these away days for years to come. A taste of nostalgia perhaps. It doesn’t have to be nostalgia however, it can be part of our future. Today we took a significant step towards making that happen. We’ll stand when we want.