"For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived, dishonest - but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought."
PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY, commencement address, Yale, June 1962.
"1 ATMOSPHERE CAN BE STATED AS:
≡ 1.013 25 bar
≡ 1013.25 hectopascal (hPa)
≡ 1013.25 millibars (mbar, also mb)
≡ 760 torr [B]
≈ 760.001 mm-Hg, 0 °C, subject to revision as more precise measurements of mercury's density become available [B, C]
≈ 29.9213 in-Hg, 0 °C, subject to revision as more precise measurements of mercury's density become available [C]
≈ 1.033 227 452 799 886 kgf/cm²
≈ 1.033 227 452 799 886 technical atmosphere
≈ 1033.227 452 799 886 cm-H2O, 4 °C [A]
≈ 406.782 461 732 2385 in-H2O, 4 °C [A]
≈ 14.695 948 775 5134 pounds-force per square inch (psi)
≈ 2116.216 623 673 94 pounds-force per square foot (psf)"
PHYSICS TEXT BOOK, YEAR ONE.
Music composer John Barry died in January this year. Not a diva, he was a man who once said his work was "Million dollar Mickey Mouse music" for kitsch such as the James Bond film genre, thus demonstrating he was not only on to Hollywood but beautifully on to himself too. In football that kind of common sense is notable for its absence. The game is and always has been filled with the most stupid myths, cheap gossip and petty hatreds, most of it manufactured through ignorance, empty-headed rumour or media manufacture. Reality is often at a premium, and is denied only at the cost of sanity.
For instance, one of the most over-used words in English football is "atmosphere." In our Evertonian case the biggest myth is that Goodison Park somehow generates a "unique atmosphere." In fact it does nothing of the sort......it is the fans who make the occasion, not the sadly outdated building. But there are some out there who convince themselves and a few naifs that the fairy tale is true. You would think season 2010-2011 had finally put that silliness to bed for all time. Virtually every home game that season our fans understandably sat on their hands. Given the way fortunes have gone this is nothing unique or reprehensible. Why be surprised when fans can't get excited because their team can't summon the wherewithal? There isn't a crowd in the league who would act differently in the same circumstances, nor is there a stadium anywhere in the world that can generate excitement. Only successful teams and confident fans can do that. During a match a football ground is merely a sounding-board. It is not a living thing, it is a static structure in use once a fortnight or so, and it should go without saying it is not religiously consecrated land - at least not unless you have lost your grip on reality. Visit Goodison Park on a non-match day and you won't hear a roar or a spontaneous comedy shtick from the seats, walls or roof however much you try to kid yourself. Inanimate materials do not shout. All an empty stadium can do is evoke memories.
Now, quite rightly, most of us do have attachment for Goodison Park, each for our own reasons. If and when we have to move it will be a highly charged sentimental moment. We have seen great players, great games and great spectacles come and go at the nation's first purpose-built football stadium. Up to 1970 it was generally considered the best club ground in England despite the fact it was built, like most others, of commons brick that became soot and weather stained over a couple of generations. That all changed when the new two-tier main stand was built and thus gutted its largest standing area, though initially it also left a strip of standing terraces along the touch line. An unforgettable sight when full, this is how the old main stand area looked in 1963:
The exterior shot below of the bomb-damaged Street End in 1940 gives you an idea of how the ground looked on three sides long before industrial cladding was fixed. It was merely ugly brickwork built to a great height:
When completed, the new main stand knocked roughly 20,000 off the then ground capacity of about 77,000. After it was opened in 1971 we never had a gate in excess of 57,000. Over the years it gradually reduced even further due to ground and legislation changes. Later, revenues were helped by the addition of corporate boxes in front of the lower tier, but they also detracted from appearance. Now of course the ground capacity is 40,000 all-seated and overall Goodison has become an economic and aesthetic millstone. Moreover, after 1971 the new stand provided an unsettling contrast to the old tiny wooden double-decker Park End then still visible in TV broadcasts (and which at that time couldn't be redeveloped due to piecemeal ownership of land and housing at the rear). Eventually wooden terracing had to be removed and the upper tier sealed off because of fire risk - a prescient move in view of the Bradford flash-fire disaster of 1985. It could easily have been us. By that time that area of the ground was a truly awful sight and went a long way to marring the club's reputation in the eyes of a new TV generation. However, the Park End stand wasn't rebuilt as a 6,000 capacity utility structure until 1994.
But I never grew to like the new main stand anyway despite its then contemporary ingenious use of extremely limited space and the narrowing angle of Goodison Road. Like many other buildings from that or any other era it became outdated in the space of 40 years. A modern football stand would never be designed with obstructing columns and dominant corporate boxes unless dictated by existing insuperable site difficulties. Cladding materials were ugly utilitarian even by the standards of the day. This is how the interior looks now, with the new Park End stand on the left, interior panoramic below from Main Stand:
This is how the exterior industrial-type cladding looks now on the Main Stand, Gwladys Street Stand, Bullens Road Stand and Park End Stand. The signage was added during the last half decade or so. Plainly, Goodison is better inside than out:
In our great 1960s decade there were few better sights than a full Goodison Road terracing. When the crowd was in the mood the noise it generated was phenomenal. However, I also saw it packed to capacity and as passive as a mill pond; it was and is one of the contradictions of being an Evertonian. A Goodison Park crowd in full cry (even now in reduced circumstances) is one of the most exhilarating experiences in the English game. When quiet, sometimes you can almost hear a pin drop. This will continue whatever stadium we occupy. I don't have a problem with these extremes because I have always detested mob mentality and admired spontaneity. Mobs units are always cowardly. Unlike our neighbours, Evertonians have tended to avoid the worst of artificial crowd pantomime, though not always successfully. Most of us are proud of this difference. But Evertonians are not unique football fans. To claim that you have to believe in some sort of "exceptionality," and then you are toying with a dilute form of racism or tribalist superstition, for which see the sick absurdities of fascism and apartheid. Which path you take is a matter for you and your conscience.
Undeniably all-seater stadia have resulted in much safer and better spectating conditions and have also eliminated most of the worst behaviour and tedious thuggery of standing terraces. All too easily you could find yourself packed next to someone with bad kidneys, a narrow forehead and limited rationale. I know of no sensible fan who thinks this is a loss, though I do know some middle aged or retired hoodies who regret the game now lacks the kind of "atmosphere" that once almost choked it to death. To which I say: if that kind of "atmosphere" is ever to return it will be without the majority of supporters. It would be little more than a stupid, quasi-sentimental epitaph for a system which no sensible human wants. We all know what contemporary behaviour did to attendances in the 1980s and early 1990s, the nadir of spectator behaviour. The game was almost decimated as a spectacle. For me this was finally confirmed in the late 1990s during an extensive stadia design study tour that took in some European venues experimenting with different forms of spectator standing. None of them added anything whatever to the game or improved the spectacle. Watching them was like viewing a miniature time capsule of Bedlam on a bad day. Thankfully, the world of football stadia has moved on to better things.
Of course, none of the new design bases can eradicate mindless tribalism since that is part of the unavoidable price we pay for committed support. There will always be lunacy hiding amongst high feelings. It still bubbles below the surface, as partly demonstrated at every game when two small sets of fans do little more than howl nonsense at each other instead of watching the game and encouraging their team. When the howling starts it appeals only to the mental grasp of a mob and their prejudices. Comically, for some this forms the current definition of "atmosphere." Neutrals rightly draw attention to its vacuity and use it as an illustration of the game's chauvinist default. We can't complain, not after the lessons of the past. All we can do is design stadia and devise crowd control techniques which help reduce dangers to the minimum. There can never be a complete design solution. After that, it is up to the fans.
Inevitably, new all-seater stadia have produced artificial alternative noise makers, the use of drums and (in some foreign grounds) megaphones, both of which would try the patience of Mohandas Gandhi let alone traditionalist fans. For a short while Everton tried a band but they had to give up when it failed to gather support. At Newcastle there were club meetings to see how they could manufacture more sound when their new stadium proved less noisy than the previous dilapidated dump that was St. James Park. New design standards have also produced the kind of public address rabble-rousing that would shame annual school sports. Some clubs even tried leggy girl cheer leaders but unsurprisingly that too faded quickly in the face of the kind of shouted suggestions that would have blushed the Marquis de Sade and Joan Collins.
Which also begs the question: where do you draw the line in misbehaviour? Recent reports told of an Everton fan ejected from Goodison for calling Louis Saha "a lazy French bastard" after another supporter complained. The ejected one had his season ticket revoked and may face a public order charge. There are many other examples of supporters throughout the country being banned for objectionable behaviour. Back in 2008 several Arsenal fans were banned sine die from their ground for spitting at Everton supporters. In 2006 human faeces in a plastic cup were thrown at Manchester United fans during a Cup match at Liverpool. At one time Evertonians had the most appalling reputation for racism due to the disproportionate actions of a tiny north Liverpool branch of the Nazi BNP; thankfully this is now in the past after the club took a firm stand against it. Up in Scotland, Old Firm games have always been a disgusting, humourless sectarian tragedy. Few clubs are completely free of this sort of thing even now with all-seater stadia, nor is it confined to football - I have been at cricket matches at Lords where the level of racism, and I'm not kidding, was every bit as bad as anything you could have read in Der Stürmer.
The usual defence is "Everyone does it" or "It's political correctness gone mad." But that is the weak whining of a drunk arrested for pissing on passing buses, or the ranting of an incoherent fanatic with a grudge against life, or the selfishness of a nicotine addict inflicting a dirty habit on anyone within sniffing distance. Firstly, everyone doesn't do it, and, secondly, laws against open abuse in public places are there for a perfectly valid reason, which is to establish reasonable levels of generally acceptable behaviour. Drawing the line is never easy but without it you might as well leave your front door open for every passing criminal to loot your home while you wave him on his way. Yes, many of us have been all too human and lost our temper - me included - and have let loose invective, but that doesn't mean it is acceptable or desirable, especially if impressionable kids are in the vicinity.
(Still, there will always be funny moments that fortunately can never be legislated out. For instance, I always snigger cheerfully when I recall the exchange between father and son: "Dad, why's Unsy called Lard Arse?" Instant answer, "Because he's gorranarse like yer ma's." In a boring match most of us would be happily slung out for coming up with a punch line like that. It's a fair trade.)
But, lest we forget, the main reason present legislation is there is because too many football supporters in a previous era lost sight of plain reasonable decency and actually organised against it, even boasted about the mayhem they caused. By now everybody in football knows the ultimate consequence of ignoring the worst behaviour. In truth in the end all the worst does is detract from "atmosphere." The vast majority of us know perfectly well when enough is enough. In other words, do the crime do the time......and stop whimpering.
The fact is no football fans anywhere have a monopoly on vocal support or so-called "atmosphere." Noise is noise and anyone can create it, or fail to create it. For instance I recall my last visit to Barcelona's Nou Camp when the attendance was 45,000 and you could have played a game of chess or read a book undisturbed. But I have also been there V Real Madrid when it was utterly tumultuous. Which is why there are few more fatuous footy songs than the Julie Andrews-type, "Shall we sing a song for you," typically produced by Lahndan shmucks from Arsenal's Emirates stadium.
So no, Evertonians are not unique, and no, they do not create a unique atmosphere. Nor do football fans anywhere. They are just human beings who happen to enjoy football as a hobby and get up for a game and make noise when things are going well and mostly go quiet when they aren't. So what? The same observations apply to fans of other sports. But I wouldn't change being an Evertonian for all the doubtful money in Abramovich's offshore accounts or all the Yankified "branding" manufactured by Rupert Murdoch and his fellow spivs. And, all in all, that is quite enough.