Monday, 12 February 2018

Diminishing returns

It occurred to me on the way home from the Olympic London Stadium on Saturday that I’ve been to five away games so far this season, and each has been a less enjoyable experience than the one before.

Southampton in September was certainly enjoyable: a 2-0 win, new signings starting to shine, Silva’s team finding its feet. Chelsea in October was, in retrospect, the high water mark of that progression. While we ultimately lost 4-2, I left Stamford Bridge feeling that, if we kept playing football of the quality we’d demonstrated in the first hour, we’d have nothing to worry about this season. Little did I know what lay ahead…

By the time I got to Selhurst Park on a cold, damp December evening, things had started to go wrong. We led for most of the match, missed good chances to make the game safe, and then threw it away in the final minutes, losing 2-1. The journey home seemed particularly long that night.

The return to St Mary’s last month for Javi Gracia’s first game in charge was worse still. A Watford team devoid of confidence looked totally incapable of turning around a 1-0 deficit, while in the away end, what started as black humour (essentially, responding to the Southampton fans’ taunts with a wry acknowledgement that, yes, we know we’re not very good) escalated into out-and-out barracking of our own team. Not a good day to be a travelling Watford fan.

And so to West Ham.

One thing about attending away games on your own is that you have no control over where you’ll be sitting or who you’ll be sitting next to. (The word ‘sitting’ should really be in inverted commas, since no ever sits at away games, for reasons that escape me.) On arrival at the London Stadium, I initially thought I’d done quite well; my seat was three rows from the front, near the corner flag, at the extreme left-hand edge of the Watford block.

As soon as the game started, I realised my error. Immediately on the other side of a tunnel entrance was a block of West Ham fans who have clearly chosen their seats so as to be as close as possible to the away fans, with a view to barracking them throughout the game. I’m sure you know the type. They spent more time looking at us than the pitch, and one bloke got so worked up that he was ejected midway through the first half.

Even that wouldn’t have been so bad if the seats immediately to my right hadn’t been occupied by Watford’s own species of this pond life; two twentysomethings who were more interested in responding in kind to the West Ham fans than in watching the game. Now I’ve got nothing against swearing (I do plenty myself), and I like to think I’m unshockable; nevertheless, being caught in a crossfire of c-words did make it hard to focus on – let alone enjoy – the game. Then there were the spittle-flecked threats – “Come over ’ere and I’ll batter yer”, and so on – that are so easy to make when there are a couple of dozen burly men in high-vis jackets between you and your adversaries.

Once West Ham scored, my neighbours’ focus soon switched to discussing how completely and utterly useless Watford were. “We haven’t had a shot!” complained one of them just before half-time. I reminded him of the two smart saves Adrian had made to keep out Mariappa’s header and Capoue’s shot, but I was wasting my breath. For some people, extremes are all that exist. Watford could only be brilliant or rubbish (I’m paraphrasing, obviously), and today they were rubbish.

This went on throughout the second half, to such an extent that I found myself doubting my own eyes. For it seemed to me that, while short of the standards we reached against Chelsea last week, we were still looking way more positive and confident than we had for most of the last two months of Silva’s time in charge. We were deservedly beaten by a team that was sharper in front of goal and tighter at the back, but it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. By this time, though, I’d realised that trying to express any of this to my neighbours would be pointless.

By the final whistle, caught between the West Ham fans who were now singing highly abusive songs about some blameless female Watford fan and the angry complaints of my neighbours, I was thoroughly miserable. Isn’t going to football meant to be fun?

Look, I know this probably sounds like the whinging of a middle-aged, middle-class supporter who doesn’t ‘get’ football fan culture. I certainly don’t want to see the passion eradicated from the game, and I do accept that brain-dead morons have as much right to buy a ticket as anyone else. But I did find myself wistfully hankering for the hooligan-ridden days of the 80s, when the idiots on both sides of me could have met up for a ruck before the game, kicked seven bells out of each other and spent the afternoon in A&E, leaving the rest of us to watch the match and support our team.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Managing change

Reading the superb Graham Taylor In His Own Words over the Christmas holidays, at the same time as Marco Silva’s team was imploding, got me thinking about Watford managers and how that first golden era is connected to the current one – slightly less golden right now, it’s true, but still holding immense promise.

It’s simple enough, and I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but in the current climate, it’s a point worth reiterating. The link is that, for a club the size of Watford to punch above our weight, we need to find a new way of running a football club; one that gives us an edge that other clubs, more hidebound by tradition, can’t or won’t emulate.

Back in the late 70s, Elton John gave Graham Taylor unprecedented power (and, lest we forget, more money to spend than any of his predecessors had enjoyed), such that he was able to make decisions about pretty much every aspect of the club. Elton trusted GT’s vision, and the manager picked up that ball and ran with it, taking the club with him all the way up the league and into Europe. I don’t believe any of the other iconic managers of the era, not even Brian Clough, had such wide-ranging power over their club. Elton took a gamble and GT’s passion, judgement, inventiveness, charisma and will to succeed did the rest.

Fast-forward nearly 40 years and Gino Pozzo has achieved a comparable feat by doing almost precisely the opposite to Elton. Recognising how much football has changed in the 21st century, the Pozzo model works precisely by minimising the power of the manager, who isn’t even called that any more; the fact that Watford now have a head coach isn’t just a question of faddish terminology, it recognises that Javi Gracia isn’t expected, or indeed allowed, to manage the club. He is merely the most senior member of the coaching team, there to decide on tactics, pick the players to execute them and do what he can to ensure they do that on matchdays.

The fact that Watford are now in their third consecutive season in the Premier League, despite the turnover in head coaches, is proof that it works. Make no mistake, the reasons we achieved promotion from the Championship were, in order of importance:
1) The Pozzos’ money and player recruitment
2) The players
3) The head coach

That’s not to say Slav didn’t play a crucial role. After all, he succeeded where Zola and Sannino had failed. But he simply added the last 5% that pushed us over the line, and the fact that Gino was happy enough to proceed into the Premier League without him suggests that his assessment of the head coach’s importance roughly matches mine.

Of course, this system only works if the head coach recognises and accepts this role. It’s still an alien concept to most people in English football and the media, as the coverage of Silva’s departure this past week amply demonstrates, which is why Gino continues to recruit head coaches from Europe. Let’s hope Javi is on board with the Pozzo model in a way that Silva clearly wasn’t, from the moment way back in August when he complained about Nordin Amrabat being loaned out without him being consulted.

The mark of how much has changed between the two most successful eras in Watford’s history is this: while one is indelibly linked with a single manager, the other depends for its continuation on a series of head coaches who will have done their jobs if, in another 40 years’ time, we can’t quite remember their names.

Monday, 1 January 2018

That was the year that was

On the face of it, 2017 was a reasonably successful year for Watford. Last season we retained our Premier League status, which was after all the object of the exercise, and the start of 2018 sees us sitting in 10th place. Another good year for the Pozzo project, then.

Well, up to a point. Your view of the club’s progress is inevitably coloured by the matches you attend, and this was a year in which I barely missed a home game, as well as making it to eight away fixtures. In all, I attended 30 Watford matches in 2017 (not counting the pre-season friendly against Real Sociedad), and saw just 10 victories; six in the latter half of last season, four so far in this campaign. And you know what? One win every three games doesn’t really feel like success to me. More like getting by.

There weren’t a lot of memorable moments, either. The two wins against Arsenal stand out, naturally, but I’m struggling to recall anything about the other wins I saw between January and April, apart from Jerome Sinclair’s solo goal against Burton in the FA Cup. Of the victories so far this season, away at Southampton was particularly enjoyable.

It’s not all about winning, of course, and there has been plenty of excitement and drama in games we drew or lost: the two games at Stamford Bridge where we threatened to pull off a shock, but ended up losing 4-3 and 4-2, and the three-all draw against Liverpool, spring to mind.

But there’s also been an awful lot of dross. You don’t need me to remind you how dreadful the football in the latter half of Mazzarri’s season was. More recently, our display against Swansea on Saturday was one of the dullest I’ve witnessed in a long time.

There’s always an excuse, though, and if there’s one word that seems to sum up Watford’s 2017, it’s injuries. There was that period at the start of the year when we lost Pereyra and then Zarate in rapid succession, and our ability to unlock opposing defences went with them. As for this season, our defence seems cursed, while any player who comes into the team and impresses is guaranteed to suffer an injury after a few games: Chalobah, Hughes, Femenia… At any one time, at least half a dozen important players have been unavailable for selection. In the circumstances, perhaps I should be grateful to have seen as many wins as I have.

Conspiracy theorists have linked the ongoing injury crisis to the departure of Head of Medical Richard Collinge at the start of last season, and maybe there’s something in that. What baffles and irritates me is the lack of clear communication about injuries. I appreciate that it’s not always possible to put a precise date on a player’s return to full fitness, but we get told so little, it’s not surprising the fans start to wonder what’s going on. When Nathaniel Chalobah was first injured, it was suggested he’d be out for about six weeks; more than twice that time has elapsed and there’s still no sign of him. Another example: a couple of weeks ago, Marco Silva suggested in a press conference that Will Hughes might be in contention to return against Brighton, yet he wasn’t named in the squad for that or the two subsequent games, with no explanation as to what’s going on.

At some point, it would be nice if someone from the club could give us their take on the ongoing injury crisis. Is it something to do with the way the players train (it was interesting to read in the programme the other day that Darryl Janmaat had barely had an injury in his career before he arrived at Vicarage Road), have we signed a lot of injury-prone players, or it really just down to bad luck?

In the meantime, Watford fans will continue to suffer more poor performances and results and keep reciting the mantra: things will pick up when our injured players are fit again. Except that day seems as far off as ever.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Alternative views

Apologies for the lack of posts in the last three months. While it might be understandable if Watford’s recent run of poor performances had put me off football altogether (and believe me, some very dark thoughts crossed my mind on the walk back to Norwood Junction in the rain after the Palace game), the banal truth is that I moved house in October, and when I haven’t been working or watching football, I’ve been too busy to write about it. But I did have two contrasting football experiences in that period that I wanted to write about.

First, for the West Ham game in November, I treated my brother and four of my closest friends to the full-on Watford hospitality experience; partly to celebrate my birthday, and partly as a thank you for their support during what’s been a difficult couple of years for me. We dined in The View – that’s the restaurant on the middle floor of the block in the corner between the Rookery and the Graham Taylor Stand – and a very good time was had by all.

I’m not going to review the experience, other than to say that the service was excellent, the food good but not exceptional, and the atmosphere buzzing. We also got a couple of exclusive interviews staged for our benefit (the whole room, I mean, not just our party); one with Richard Johnson, a version of the pre-match preview he does out on the pitch, and one after the game with Odion Ighalo, who was one of Sky’s match summarisers.

What you miss out, though, is all the stuff that happens outside the 90 minutes of football. You’re only ushered out of the hermetically sealed room a few minutes before kick-off, and with allocated seats on the halfway line that take an age to get to, you don’t see much of the pre-match build-up. At half-time, we’d barely managed to return to the restaurant and have a swig of our drinks before it was time to head back out. Afterwards, enjoyable as the experience had been, I found I missed watching the players warm up, the first reading of the teams, the half-time penalty shoot-out and all the other familiar parts of the matchday routine.

Bottom line: it’s an expensive day out for what you get (especially as drinks weren’t included in my package), but if you get a chance to try it, you should, if only to see how the other half live.

By way of complete contrast, a couple of weeks later I was in Dorchester, down in Dorset, and with nothing better to do with my Saturday afternoon, I went to watch Dorchester Town play Hitchin Town in the Evostik Premier League.

Dorchester’s ground, The Avenue, is about a mile from the town centre. It’s a modern stadium, clearly built as part of a deal with Tesco, whose giant superstore is part of the same complex. It’s a neat and tidy little stadium. With no obvious hard core of home fans to join, I picked a crush barrier beside the goal at one end and watched as the struggling home team shipped three goals before half-time. The standard of football was okay, though not helped by a muddy pitch, and I enjoyed being so close to the action. There’s something about hearing a tackle or a shot, rather than just seeing it, that brings a game to life.

In the second half, the noisy Hitchin fans (all 20 of them – I counted) having occupied the end where I’d been standing, I moved round to the side opposite the main stand. Once the sun went down it got properly cold, and without a team to root for, I seriously considered leaving long before the final whistle. As a Hertfordshire lad, I was secretly pleased with the result – 4-1 to Hitchin – and only annoyed that they didn’t score more. About 10 minutes from time, one of their strikers had a free run on goal, only to divert towards the corner flag and do the old ‘shielding the ball’ routine. I wondered if that was on the manager’s instructions, or whether it was just something they’d seen the pros do on TV and thought they should copy.

So, two very different football experiences, both enjoyable in their own way. If I had to choose one to repeat week in, week out, I’d like to think I’d pick the non-league option. But knowing myself as I do, I’m not sure I wouldn’t plump for the luxury of hospitality. Especially if someone else was paying.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Away daze

As we enter the second international break of the season, Watford are (as I’m sure you’ve noticed) still unbeaten away – as, indeed, are five other Premier League teams. So it seems like a good time to reprise an old post from 2010, in which I explain why no one should be particularly surprised by this. Enjoy…

There’s no such thing as home advantage.

There, I’ve said it, and now I feel like that kid in the fairy story who notices that the emperor is parading around in his birthday suit. But can I really be the only person to have questioned the assumption that it’s somehow easier for the home team to win a game of football than it is for the away team?

Let’s run through the factors generally viewed as contributing to the phenomenon of home advantage:

The pitch
I’m sure there are plenty of park pitches where there’s a genuine advantage to be gained by knowing, say, that there’s a large pothole over by the corner flag that’s never been properly filled in, or that one side of the pitch is liable to turn into the Somme after five minutes of light drizzle.

But at the professional level, pitches are much of a muchness, generally well tended and flat. Even where there are local variations, it’s hard to see how this gives an advantage to the home team. If you have to play on a boggy quagmire once a fortnight during the winter months, does that really help you?

The facilities
We’ve all heard about the dastardly ruses teams employ to cause their visitors maximum discomfort: ‘forgetting’ to turn the hot water on in the away dressing room, neglecting to mend the wonky leg on the massage table and so on.

Maybe this really does have an effect. But you’d have to hope that professional sportsmen, with all the expensive training and psychological conditioning they receive, can rise above the trauma of having to wait a bit longer than usual for their pre-match massage.

The travelling
On the face of it, this is more plausible. We all know what it’s like sitting on a coach for three hours, and it’s easy to imagine that by the time you get off, the last thing you feel like doing is playing a game of football against a bunch of players who’ve just strolled over to the ground from their nearby homes.

But that’s not how it works, is it? For one thing, players don’t live locally any more. To give just one example, during his playing days, Alec Chamberlain lived in Northampton – so when we played Luton at Vicarage Road, he had to travel further to get there than they did. Did he therefore forfeit home advantage on an individual basis? It’s nonsense.

The idea that travelling in itself puts you at a disadvantage would be more acceptable if it wasn’t assumed to apply equally across the board. When Liverpool play Everton, they can get there by ambling across Stanley Park if they want. Dundee and Dundee United are famously sited on the same street, and it’s not that long. So why is the away team at a disadvantage in that fixture?

The crowd
Ah yes, the famous ‘12th man’, the passionate home crowd that can spur on a team to great heights. And I don’t doubt that this is true, sometimes at least.

But shouldn’t that logically mean that the clubs with the loudest, most fanatical supporters ought to win everything? Clubs like Newcastle, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Wolves... By the same token, the grounds where the singing is occasional and tentative ought to offer easy points to the visitors – grounds like the Emirates and Old Trafford, for example. You see my point.

Above all, it’s hard to take the concept of home advantage seriously when it’s applied so indiscriminately. If someone came up with a formula that took into account the distance the away team had to travel, the average decibel level generated by the home crowd and other factors, and then calculated the home advantage as a percentage, say, then I might be prepared to accept it.

I know what you’re going to say: if there’s no such thing as home advantage, why are there more home wins than away wins most weeks? The answer brings us to the crux of the problem, and the reason that it matters: tactics.

The myth of home advantage relieves managers of the stress of having to think too much. If you’re at home, you know you’re expected to win, so you line up in an attacking formation and batter the opposition until they concede. If you’re away, you play defensively, avoid taking risks and hope you might snatch a goal on the break. The reason there are more home wins is that most away teams’ defences simply aren’t good enough to withstand the pressure they’re put under.

In an ideal world, I’d take one of those memory-wiping devices Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith had in Men In Black and use it on every footballer and every manager to rid them of the notion that there is any such thing as home advantage. Then they’d be forced to approach every match on its own merits – work out how to neutralise the opposition’s best players and devise a system that allowed their own to shine.

For proof of how this can work in practice, think back to the 2006 Championship Play-Off Final. On neutral territory in Cardiff, Aidy Boothroyd went toe-to-toe with Kevin Blackwell, and only one of them got their tactics right. Imagine how much more fun football would be if you could turn up every week and have no idea how each team was going to play.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Before we get carried away...

It was a classic case of getting over-excited. A little under a year ago, on this very blog, I wrote: “This already looks like being a lot more fun than last season was.”

In my defence, this was after we’d come back from conceding two early goals to wallop West Ham 4-2, and then thrillingly beaten Mourinho’s Man U 3-1 the following week. But it does illustrate the folly of counting any chickens so early in the season. By May, of course, ‘fun’ was the last word anyone would have used to describe watching Mazzarri’s Watford.

So, in that spirit, I’m going to ignore the many positives from yesterday’s hugely enjoyable trip to Southampton and focus on the negatives:

Our defence is made of porcelain
Successful teams are usually founded on a stable defence who play together regularly enough to form a tight unit. Meanwhile, in four league games, we’ve already fielded five different centre-backs, with a further two out with long-term injuries. I hope Molla Wagué is match-fit, because the odds are that he’ll be needed before the end of the month.

And that’s before I’ve even mentioned Darryl Janmaat, a 21st-century Frank Spencer (kids, ask your parents) who should probably be kept in bubblewrap between fixtures, and Britos and Holebas, who are liable to miss games every season for other reasons.

Our strikers aren’t scoring
Of the eight goals we’ve scored so far (including the League Cup tie against Bristol City), only one has come from a striker – and that was Stefano Okaka, who didn’t even make the bench yesterday. While it’s nice to see goals coming from all areas of the pitch, a team needs its strikers to be scoring – and the strikers need to score, to keep their confidence high.

Our creative players make bad decisions
We really should have scored five or six goals yesterday. Particularly late in the game, when Southampton were chasing the game, we had several breaks that should have ended with the ball in the back of the net, if Richarlison or Carillo in particular had had the sense to pick out a teammate rather than going for glory.

It’s a tricky one, of course. You buy creative players like that for their ability – but they also need enough of a footballing brain to know when a quick pass or cross is more likely to result in a goal than trying to dribble round the entire defence, or shoot from 30 yards out.

Our Head Coach won’t wave to the fans
Seriously, Marco, what’s your problem?

Sunday, 3 September 2017

You’re my favourite

Any regular readers of this increasingly irregular blog will know that I’ve always had a favourite Watford player, chosen on purely subjective grounds at the start of each season. For most of the life of this blog, it was Lloyd Doyley, who I finally, reluctantly, replaced with Troy Deeney a couple of seasons ago (though I can’t actually find the post where I formally announced this – an unforgivable oversight on my part).

This season, the decision has been particularly tricky. For one thing, there was some doubt as to whether Troy would still be at the club when the transfer window closed, particularly after the arrival of Andre Gray. Indeed, on Thursday evening a tweet appeared in my timeline announcing that ‘Sky sources’ had learned that Troy was off to Newcastle for £32.5 million. Fortunately, like most such rumours, it turned out to be untrue, and Troy is still a Hornet.

But will he play? In Marco Silva’s preferred formation there’s only room for one centre-forward, and Gray is the man in possession. There’s a possibility that Troy could play in the centre of the three-man attacking midfield, but Tom Cleverly is doing well in that position, and Pereyra and Zarate will be in contention soon, too. I suspect that Troy may have to be content with appearances as an impact substitute for the time being.

So who are the alternatives? There are a few in this increasingly likeable Watford team: Cleverly, Chalobah, Pereyra if he can stay fit long enough to show us what he’s really capable of. But the standout for me is Abdoulaye Doucouré, who since the turn of the year has become the rock at the heart of Watford’s midfield. A wholehearted player and a true box-to-box midfielder, he was one of the few bright spots in the dismal second half of last season. Now that we’ve got Chalobah to play alongside him, complementing him perfectly, he’s becoming one of the key players in the team. The fact that the 1881 have devised a (magnificent) chant for him suggests that I’m far from alone in my admiration.

So, Troy or Abdoulaye? In the end, I’m sticking with Troy. He’s overcome a few obstacles in his career (to put it mildly), and every time he’s come out stronger and proved the doubters wrong. If Gray gets injured, or fails to find the scoresheet for a few games and shows signs of losing confidence, Troy could soon be back in the team, and you wouldn’t bet against him making the centre-forward spot his own again.

Friday, 11 August 2017

More of the same?

Since I belatedly realised that I simply don’t have the space to store the programme from every Watford game I’ve attended since 1970, I’ve developed a new ritual. On the eve of each season, I throw away the previous season’s programmes – all except one, which I keep as a reminder of a particularly notable or memorable match.

When it came to last season, the process didn’t take long. West Ham and Arsenal away were notable wins, as were Leicester and Everton at home. Then there was the commemorative wrap-around cover from the game after GT died – but it was a lousy game, and besides, I’ve now got the admirably classy programme from last week’s celebration.

So in the end, it was an easy enough decision; the programme from the 3-1 win against Manchester United in September will have to represent Walter Mazzarri’s sole season in charge at Vicarage Road in my collection. And it was arguably the best result, and one of the best performances, with Zuniga’s well-taken goal just minutes after coming off the bench particularly memorable.

Looking at the line-up on the back page of the programme, I notice that of the starting line-up that day 11 months ago, there’s only one player – Odion Ighalo – who is no longer at the club. Craig Cathcart is injured (again) and Valon Behrami is on his way out, but otherwise we could theoretically field a very similar eleven tomorrow.

Then again, we’ve since added Cleverley, Chalobah, Hughes, Gray, Richarlison and Femenia – and it’s also worth mentioning Abdoulaye Doucouré, who cemented his place as an integral part of the team in the second half of last season. So, to a team that was capable of beating Jose Mourinho’s all-stars a year ago, we’ve added half a team’s worth of young, skilful, ambitious players. Oh, and a head coach who’s already shown he can build effective teams.

All of which makes the numerous pre-season predictions showing Watford finishing in the bottom three all the more baffling. Of course it won’t be easy, but this is the Premier League – it never is. But we’ve got the quality to take on anyone in this division, starting with Liverpool tomorrow. Bring it on.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Standing orders

I was going to follow last week’s post about the issues surrounding standing at Premier League grounds with a more specific moan about standing in away ends, and a suggestion.

But I’m delighted to say that Watford have beaten me to it. Hidden away at the bottom of an article on the official site explaining the new priority groups for buying tickets is this:

New for 2017/18, Supporter Liaison & Disability Officer Dave Messenger will be seeking to further assist supporters who’d like to attend away fixtures but cannot stand for the duration of the 90 minutes.

Watford FC is aware of the growing trend for fans in away sections to indulge in much longer periods of continual standing than occurs among home fans’ areas of grounds.

In this respect, Dave will work with the Ticket Office team to identify appropriate seats at other Premier League stadia and the Hornets reserve the right to keep back such seats as it sees fit to ensure all Hornets’ fans who are eligible to purchase and wish to travel can enjoy the fixture without the need to stand.

I can only applaud the club for this. I was talking to a fellow Hornet a couple of weeks ago who told me that, at the age of 74, he can’t stand for 90 minutes, so he wouldn’t be going to any away games this season. I’ve certainly witnessed this a number of times over the past few years; older fans (who have as much right to go to away games as anyone else) missing much of the action because they need to sit down, and the people in front of them won’t.

So I’ll stop moaning. If this new plan works, it should satisfy everyone: the 1881 and their ilk (who, I assume, are ideologically wedded to the concept of standing) at one end, the older and more infirm fans at the other, and in the middle, the rest of us who quite like sitting but don’t mind standing for a bit if we have to. Well done, Watford.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

I ain’t gonna stand for it

A few weeks ago, I went to see The Wedding Present play at the Roundhouse in Camden. Musically-inclined readers of a certain age may remember them as a popular indie guitar band in the mid-80s, known for their furiously strummed guitars and pithy lyrics about student love affairs. They’re now playing the nostalgia circuit, performing their classic George Best album in full, and during that part of the show, middle-aged men could repeatedly be seen trying to crowdsurf. It was very entertaining.

I’ve been reading a lot about the campaign to introduce ‘safe standing’ at football grounds recently, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a similar impulse must be behind it. After all, compulsory all-seater stadiums were introduced for the top two divisions in the early 90s, so anyone who stood regularly as a teenager at a ground in those divisions must now be pushing 40. Like the crowdsurfers at the Roundhouse, I can only assume that the safe standing campaign is being led by people with a hankering to relive their younger days. I can’t see another reason for it.

As it happens, the editorial in this month’s When Saturday Comes (a magazine which invariably has its heart in the right place) gives two main reasons for introducing safe standing: restoring some atmosphere to sterile all-seater stadiums, and reducing ticket prices.

I’ve heard the argument before that standing up encourages singing – some even maintain that it is physically harder to sing while sitting down – and it’s nonsense. It may make a difference if you’re part of a chorale performing a Bach cantata, but not when belting out the ‘Deeney is a legend’ song. I’ve happily sat and sang for 20 years, as have thousands of others.

As for reducing ticket prices, it’s a noble ambition. But Premier League clubs in particular have had ample opportunity to do so in recent years as Sky have showered them with money, and few have done anything to make matchdays cheaper for fan; it all goes on escalating transfer fees and player wages instead. That may change if safe standing is ever introduced, but I’m not holding my breath.

There is a third argument; that fans stand anyway, particularly in away ends, so we need to ensure they can do so safely. I have some sympathy with this line, but I think football supporters have actually become a lot more sensible in the past 30 years. The bundles and crushes that made life on the old terraces so hazardous simply don’t happen when everyone is standing on a narrow strip of concrete with the back of a chair at their feet. It’s not that dangerous any more.

For what it’s worth, I’m not against standing at football matches. I just don’t see the point of spending money on installing rail seating (which the safe standing brigade are pinning their hopes on) when there are other ways of arranging things. Watford’s Operations Director made this point perfectly at an At Your Place event I attended last season. As he pointed out, the club have an arrangement with the 1881 that they can have a block where everyone can stand throughout the match if they want; those who want to stand can join that group, and everyone else sits down. It doesn’t cost anything, and everyone’s happy. We can’t be the only club where this common-sense approach is taken.

As further proof, he also mentioned standing in the away end, but I’ll come back to that another time...