By Dr Billy “the Dog” McGraw, head of psychology at the University Hospital of the North Circular Road.
In psychology we have a term called “identity fusion” – something that brings together and holds together members of gangs and other groups. It is a curious thing because it can make groups and organisations that are beaten and humiliated cling together even more than they did before.
It is something that Arsenal don’t have largely because the club has continued to have top four finishes. There has been no relegation, which as we’ve shown in other articles, is the normal process following the building of a new stadium. Instead we have what to me (biased as I am of course) looks and feels like the best – or at least one of the best stadia in the League. I’ve been to most PL grounds over the years, and in many cases have been not just in the tucked away, away far away support section, but in the home bits too, as a guest of a supporter of the home club.
And much as I try to set aside my Arsenal support, the Ems still seems to me the best league ground there is.
OK, I moan about the catering, but to be fair catering is awful at all grounds. At Leicester this season for example, they had a range of beers available, so you could choose one, they could deliver it into a plastic cup and take your money. Except it wasn’t the beer mentioned. They actually only had one beer, and all the taps delivered it. But they forgot to tell customers. Then, on hearing our complaint and my detailed explanation that what they were doing was against the Sale of Goods Act as well as being fraud, they tried to do staff training while the fans queued and waited… Not very clever.
Even Wembley, the national stadium, is dross when it comes to catering. For the last two cup finals we were in I had the best tickets on offer for regular Arsenal fans. Given that for the game against Villa, my usual travelling friends didn’t get tickets I went on my own, and having arrived early decided to go in and have a drink. I asked for a red wine – not a special red wine, but any red wine. No chance. They only had white. In a venue where the tickets cost what was it – £80 or something like that. The National Stadium. Absolute rubbish.
Anyway, we have quality at the Ems, except for the catering, and the leaking roof, and the fact that two guys openly smoking at the last game were not stopped by the stewards, and the flares… but even with all this I state rate it. But we have lots of in-fighting and bickering because the identity fusion didn’t kick in, because we didn’t have real big problems.
State Aid Utd (previously West Ham) on the other hand got their stadium for free – and as their supporters have often told us, that is only right because they only rent it one day a fortnight. (It could have been more but they got knocked out of the Europa by Tiddly Tiny Rovers of Romania – stadium capacity 8500.)
The stadium cost me and my fellow UK tax payers £701 million to build and is now owned by E20 partnership, set up between the London Legacy Development Corporation and London Newham Council. E20 employ the stadium operators, London Stadium 185 (LS185), to manage the security of the ground on matchday.
And because of my contribution to the costs of building and the on-going running costs (tax payers even pay for the corner flags, stewards and the like, so it turns out) I take an interest. I do, as I say, pay for it.
I used to think WHU / State Aid Utd had identity fusion because they have won a few things (beating us in the cup final was a high point, while getting relegated in 1993, 2001 and 2011). But now they are angry with each other in a way that Arsenal fans never were (at least I never saw it) after we moved to the Ems.
What I remember of the move to the Ems was how well it was handled – although of course I didn’t keep notes at the time, and may have missed bits. Red Action got their section, you could see the view you would get from the on line service… and that was when IT was about 0.1% as powerful as it is now. Away fans got their bit, and segregation lines are movable from game to game. When Man C didn’t turn up cos their fans couldn’t afford it, our fans were given an extra 1000 places, and that was filled. The segregation line was just moved – and very effective it looked from my seat.
At the Ems all the seats were there ready for the opening game, and the only problem I recall for the first home league match was a delay in opening the entry gates by about 10 minutes through some technical cock-up. But that was two hours before the match so no real harm done.
It was (and yes, I fully admit, I am trying to remember events of a few years back so I may have missed stuff) quite smooth, and I liked the new ground from the off. All a bit different from Karren Brady being verbally abused by State Aid fans. She is now demanding police are deployed inside the club’s new London Stadium for future games. And maybe she has a point – I never dared wear any Arsenal colours or badges for games at their old ground.
But now they have a problem, because in getting rid of all those aggravating costs of running a stadium, while giving them to me and my fellow tax payers, the board suddenly find they actually don’t have control over what happens in the stadium. Arsenal of course do – they can choose how they do it, subject only to any demands the police make. But at the Tax Payers Stadium, no they can’t because the stadium is run by representatives of … well, people like me. UK tax payers.
So, since I am one of the people who has paid for, and continues to pay for, State Aid United’s stadium, I think my voice ought to be heard.
The operators of the ludicrously named London Stadium (as if there were only one London stadium – it is not even the biggest, actually being the third biggest and once the Tiny Totts get their new ground it will be the fourth biggest) the quaintly named LS185 are talking, and as a result it looks like the fact that I am going to have to pay again. For having paid for the stadium, and having paid to convert it, and having paid to have football there, I am now, as a tax payer, going to have to pay for police officers to be in the stadium. Something I have never seen at the Emirates.
Brady also wants more experienced stewards brought so I suppose I’ll have to pay for that.
According to the Telegraph “one of the sons of co-owner David Sullivan tweeted that an unnamed board member was spat at and others verbally abused during the 4-2 defeat to Watford while stewards stood by and did nothing.”
The Safety Advisory Group Officials at the stadium and LS185 and all the other little groups that seem to be involved have admitted that “they did not foresee in-fighting as being a problem” at the ground. But hang on guys, this is State Aid we are talking about. The descendants of the group that went to Italy wearing Mafia t-shirts. Of course most WHU fans are reasonable and decent people who just couldn’t believe their luck in being given a new stadium. But tucked away within the club are sons of the Inter City Firm, and you really don’t want to mess with them.
Next up for them is a tough one: Accrington Stanley, and I guess that is where we all start paying, again. Meanwhile fans with young children are begging the club to be allowed to be moved to a different part of the stadium, or maybe another ground. However West Ham (to use their old name) will not be in charge of safety. That is still with LS185. Taxpayers are still paying however.
A spokes being said, “In line with our safety and security policies, these supporters will be banned from all stadium events. In addition, we will continue to review CCTV footage and take retrospective action where necessary. Any evidence of crime and disorder will be passed to the police.
“As part of our review process, we will be taking steps to strengthen the segregation measures between home and away supporters. In-fighting amongst home supporters has also given us cause for concern and we will continue to work closely with West Ham United to identify and take action against the small number of supporters found to be responsible for these incidents.
“We remain determined to ensure that all supporters can enjoy the best possible matchday experience in a safe and secure environment and fully support West Ham’s efforts to migrate supporters attending in family groups to dedicated sections.”
I wonder what will happen if Accrington win.
You might also fancy…
- The fans: We are the dead, blindfolded, walking backwards into the darkness, led by those who treat us with contempt
And a day to remember
- 13 September 1997: Ian Wright broke Cliff Bastin’s record with a hattrick against Bolton (the second of which actually broke the record, although Wright revealed his celebratory t-shirt after the first goal).