By Jason McKeown
To paraphrase the Liverpool legend Ian Rush, these football supporters at Euro 2012 are like they are from a foreign country. There is something strange and at times a little unsettling about watching the way fans are acting inside the stadiums during the tournament. It is as though a corporate-friendly style of what certain organisations – chiefly UEFA – think that football supporters should look and act like has been presented to us, for our entertainment. Carefully packaged to the TV audiences as a caricature of ‘passion’, everyone inside these stadiums – it seems – is having a whale of a time.
Witness the bizarre ritual of everyone in the stadium counting down, from 10, to the kick off of a match. There’s no doubt that the sight of players about to commence an important game generates a feeling of excitement when you’re inside a ground, but football matches rarely ever explode into life from ‘zero’ and counting down the start of a game in this manner seems over the top and cringeworthy. Like when the residents of Springfield went to watch a match, not realising what they were letting themselves in for.
When corners are about to be taken, it’s become increasingly common for fans to make strange “woooahhh” build up noises, the type of which has been regularly heard in grounds for years when trying to put the opposition off (most notably when the keeper takes a goal kick). As the German supporters embarked on this for what seemed like the 50th time in the evening, against Greece, I was just waiting for the Bradford City-style follow up “you fat bastard”.
Celebratory music when your team scores has been part of the English football experience for well over a decade now, but – when goals are scored at Euro 2012 – there is still something slightly bewildering about how many countries’ supporters are embracing and singing along to the White Stripes theme that UEFA always play, sacrificing their own cheering. There’s nothing quite like the sound of a football crowd all screaming “YYEEEESSSSS!!!!” when their team scores a goal. At least that’s what I think. For whatever reason, stadium PA systems attempt to drown it out.
The TV companies covering the event are lapping all of this up, especially the matches held in Ukraine. On some occasions, you can see TV cameramen marching up and down the aisles in the stands to find a suitable set of supporters to film. With TV pictures of the match also shown on a big screen inside the ground, crowds seem to be fully aware their grinning face might be about to broadcast across Europe and the world; and when they do appear on screen, start to wave in a very uncool, hello-mum manner. It becomes a never-ending circle. The TV cameras look for the most passionate-looking, over-the-top dressed up people as possible. Get your facepaint on, wear a stupid hat, jump up and down non-stop for 90 minutes, and eventually you will have your five seconds of big screen fame.
(England fans are the exception to all of this, by the way, looking very regular and largely avoiding dressing up, beyond an England shirt.)
It’s all strange, because it is so unlike the regular experience of watching your football club. You just cannot imagine us all sitting at Valley Parade next season, counting down from 10 for the kick off of the match (especially when our players do that usual trick of booting the ball straight out for a throw in).
Any TV camera scanning Valley Parade for madly passionate supporters would struggle to find face paint, hats or dancing. Claret and amber tops for sure, but sported by a couple of thousand supporters intently watching a game and chanting in a far more measured manner. If at Euro 2012 there are the type of moaners who are positioned all over Valley Parade – sulkily folding their arms and deriding everything – they are completely ignored by the cameras.
But which is the genuine football fan? I appreciate that flying over to Poland and Ukraine to watch your country involves a huge level of commitment, which means such people are obviously very loyal to their team. But after over a decade of utter misery following the Bantams, those of us who still buy our season tickets and who travel up and down the country to dismal looking League Two grounds are just as committed, even if we don’t have plastic grins or wear our team’s colours.
I look at Euro 2012 crowds and it reminds me of music festivals. They typically attract thousands of people; the greater majority of who probably don’t go to see gigs that often, and encourages a sort of over-the-top cheering and dressing up that others – the kind who go to gigs week in week out and who probably helped the huge band headlining the festival to ‘make it’ because of their devotion – are left tutting to themselves and hating the way people around them are acting. Perhaps the atmospheres inside the Euro 2012 stadiums are actually credible, grounded and normal; but viewed through a TV set at home, they seem too manufactured and fake.
Watching your football team can be a hugely frustrating experience at times, but when things go well and you get to celebrate a superb goal or an important victory, there is no greater feeling. At the height of European football – the Euros – I have no idea why the organisers believe they have to attempt to enhance those special moments by drowning out people cheering with loud music. And I struggle to identify with the ‘passionate’ supporters that the TV pictures flash up during every break in play, many of whom look less like they are present to see the football and more like they are there to be seen.