The Premier League has been witness to some of the greatest footballing moments in recent decades years.
Martin Tyler’s Aguero goal-gasm, Cantona’s flying kung-fu kick, and who could forget ‘Collymore closing in’ to seal a 4-3 win for Liverpool over Newcastle in 1996?
Accompanying these moments, hand-in-hand, are the supporters. Grounds such as Anfield and Old Trafford have generated the noise of footballing symphonies over the years with the fans at the forefront. The ever-present 12th man, behind their team ’til the end.
In recent years, however, certain fans have fallen under scrutiny for their lack of noise, most recently United’s from manager Jose Mourinho himself. With the great success that clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have generated, over time it almost feels as though the “12th man” has been fading.
Fan ‘gentrification’ and football tourism at these great English clubs have led to many modern stadia turning into soulless bowls. It feels as though the once electric, deafening atmospheres across the country may actually be seeping away, replaced by increased corporate hospitality and designated ‘singing areas’ (which never used to be needed).
Has the Premier League begun to lose what made it so special in the late 90s?
It certainly may feel that way if you ever have the chance to watch a game at one of its larger grounds. But the heart of everything that’s been so great about English supporters over the years can still be found.
Is there hope for the real football fans?
Recently, I travelled up to Huddersfield for their Premier League clash with fellow relegation strugglers, Crystal Palace. Two teams that have been new to the league over the last five years, both regarded as small clubs but renowned for having some of the best supporters in the country.
A perfect match, therefore, to experience for myself whether English football has truly lost its soul in the stands.
‘Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country’
Entering the John Smith’s Stadium, you are immediately hit by the bone-chilling winds. Positioned by a hillside, the bitterly cold northerlies roll off it and into the ground, almost forcing the fans to start singing in order to warm up.
Positioned right next to the travelling Palace fans were the Huddersfield fanatics. Very similar to the infamous ‘Holmesdale Fanatics’ hard supporters.
Singing from the first minute to the last, with flags flying and drums beating, they really generated a booming atmosphere, which also sparked the renowned away fans into life as well.
The real winners
The 25,000-capacity stadium, despite being hit by a number of heavy snow showers, may well have been a 60,000 seater. The noise from the south stand, where the two sets of fans faced off in a war of words and song was, at times, deafening and you wondered how long such a spectacle could go on for.
One set of fans would start a new chant, to try and gain superiority over the opposition fans, but would instantly be countered with sharp verbal blows and volleys of chants: “Who are ya, who are ya!” It really did feel like a game from abroad, it almost didn’t matter what was happening on the pitch, the fans were not going to shut up.
The Eagles eventually ran out 2-0 winners in what could turn out to be a massive six-pointer come the end of the season. But, whilst the story of the day may have been the result and Palace’s victory, the real winners were definitely the fans.
The supporters, from both sides, went a long way in showing that the eccentric core of English supporters is still alive and as fiery as always. The game had a burning passion on such a freezing afternoon, but at no point did the support feel as though it could turn sour.
Pure respect between the two sets of fans was shown throughout and proved that there is hope for atmospheres around the country.
Huddersfield and Crystal Palace fans proved that it doesn’t matter how big a club you are or the size of your ground or your league position. If you get behind your team no matter what, become the ‘12th man’, do everything you can to back the team you love, then that’s all that matters.