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Manchester Utd bring in acoustic engineer and why the Highbury Library was a myth

By Tony Attwood

I don’t think anyone knows which journalist first called our last stadium “the Highbury library”.  But it became a name that could be used by away supporters, the disenchanted, and the lazy journalists to banter around.  Not because it was true (were you there during the “49”???) but because it, well, rhymed.

And nice little rhymes always stay in the mind even when they have no basis in reality.

Indeed if I may be permitted to reiterate one of my favourite Highbury memories (and no one is likely to stop me, since I’m the editor) it was of the day we won our second title under George Graham.  Liverpool had played before us, and their game was televised.  We watched it in the Duke of Edinburgh (then the seediest of Islington bars, where it was generally worthwhile having a cholera jab before entering) and at the end, with Arsenal now certain to be champions, we poured onto the streets, across the Seven Sisters, down St Thomas’ (named after Michael) and into the ground.

It was also the season of the notorious two point deduction – something never used before or since as far as I can recall – for a spot of argy bargy on the pitch at Man U.

So, we poured into Highbury about an hour before kick off and sang “She’ll be coming round the mountain” with the lyrics of “You can stick you’re f***ing two points up your arse”.   We kept it up for an hour before the game, and all through the game.  There was no point trying to talk to anyone, it was just so incredibly loud.

But what really made this so amusing was the fact that ITV had booked to broadcast our game as well as the previous one, and so even though the League was won, they went ahead with the live coverage.  I had set my old VHS video machine to record the broadcast, and I played it back at about 3am the next morning.

And there unbelievably, as we could all be heard singing “You can…” over and over the idiotic brain dead c0-commentator said to his mate, “Well the Arsenal fans are in good voice here Brian, and I expect you can hear them at home with their singing of ‘We are the champions’.”

Oh no you couldn’t.  But you must certainly could hear, “You can stick your…”

So why (you may ask, assuming you haven’t had enough and ventured forth to another blog), are you bringing it up here?

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Well, its because Manchester U. are looking at ways of increasing the volume within Very Old Trafford (built 1910 – as discussed at some length in Making the Arsenal).

Supporters have been complaining that the ground is too quiet, and so Manchester U have appointed a team of acoustic engineers to assess the problem.

It is of course a profound shame that “Trafford” not only does not rhyme with “library” but also fails to rhyme with any word that refers to a place typically known for its lack of volume.   Grave, funeral, bookshop, meditation centre… none of them quiet make it in the rhyming stakes, either for “Manchester” or “United”.

So the press won’t make anything of this, because for them it only works if it rhymes.

Anyway, the engineer will be going to a number of games, presumably with his attached sound meter and will report back at the end of the season.

But perhaps I can help a little.   One little point that I gathered from my visits to Very Old Trafford was that it always seemed to me that one end couldn’t readily hear the other end, so not only was there no “We’re the Stretford End, Manchester” answered by “We’re the Scoreboard End, Manchester” indeed there was very little unified singing.

Of course this is not the first time they’ve had a bash at sorting out the noise.  They’ve tried to have a singing end, and they have tried moving the away support.  (Arsenal are looking into the same idea, although not so much from a sound point of view, but rather to make more cheaper lower tier seats available to Arsenal fans.)

They might of course pipe out some chanting to get things going, or perhaps have one of those guys like you see in some countries who never watches the match at all but directs the singing via a megaphone pointed at the supporters.

But for me there is one point that overrides everything in relation to getting the volume up, and that is the wit.

Arsenal for a while had chants that they wanted us to follow up on the scoreboard – no one took a blind bit of notice because they were so dull.

And yes of course a lot of chanting is itself dull – I mean how many times do you want to hear “Stand up if you hate Tottenham”.  I never stand a) because I have paid for a seat, and b) because I don’t hate Tottenham.  My tribe is Arsenal, and I want us to win, but I don’t hate people just because they are Tottenham.

No, I like the chants and that have something funny within them, either because they are are amusing in themselves or because have a historical context that makes them amusing.  Which is why I loved “North London is ours” during the time Tottenham were thinking of moving east.  A certain sense of irony there.

Incidentally I think the loudest I have heard the Ems through one half of the game was for the Milan victory after the 4-0 away defeat.  And at Highbury it was probably the Everton match to win the league in 1998.

Roger and I were there, and with Arsenal 2-0 up at half time Roger was still uncertain as to whether we were going to pull it off.  Then after Overmars got his second, Tony Adams got a brilliant pass from Steve Bould and scored that goal in front of the North Bank where we sat, and even if I had tried to speak (which I didn’t because my voice went on the third goal) Roger, in the seat next to me, would never have heard me.

Anyway, good luck to Manchester U and their sound engineer…  but still, there must be something that rhymes with Trafford…


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14 comments to Manchester Utd bring in acoustic engineer and why the Highbury Library was a myth

  • Brian

    I think I have one that rhymes with trafford!!!

    Shower of Cunts?

  • curtis

    what about “OT” rhyming with “library”?

  • Dominic

    One of my favourite chants came years ago when we were playing Stoke. Peter Shilton was the Stoke goalie at the time and had been in the papers for getting up to naughties with a lady. He claimed that it was all a misunderstanding and he didn’t know the lady at all, couldn’t even remeber her name. As he approached the North Bank to take up his position in goal the fans with one voice chanted, “Tina, Tina…” I think it helped him remember.

  • ian


    I remember that too. I recall being on the North Bank when he turned, smiled and I think give a thumbs up. I believe he was reminded of her for a couple of seasons and fair play to him for having a sense of humour.


    Some years ago I recall one of our reserves games that took place at Underhill was played behind closed doors. One of the opposing teams players was reported as saying that there had been recordings of songs and chants played during the game, going on to say it was something that Arsenal were considering to introduce at The Emirates.

  • The font

    Tony you really do not have to hate tottenham fans you just have to say you do it’s not uncommon in north london to have both red and blue in the. Same house. But for 90 minutes twice a year you are supposed to pretend.

  • Trafford… B@$+@rd?

  • Stuart

    Highbury was never quiet, intact it was one of the loudest. The Emirates however opened the door to a new set of fans with no matchday experience who just sit there or worse, read a book (seen it) or have a matterand rarely watch the game.

    Now iI’m not saying people are not free to do what they want but the atmosphere has always been missing whenever I’ve been there, club level is the worst. I don’t enjoy the Ems and prefer to go to a busy pub.

  • Stuart

    Sorry for spelling mistakes :

  • kenneth Widmerpool

    Anthony Powell, author, pronounced Anthony “Pole”.
    Old Trafford,football stadium, pronounced “Old Toilet”.
    Oh the beauty of the English language!

  • Gooner S

    Arsenal vs Liverpool – “Sammy Lee sat on the ball again” after a replacement ball was required.

    Tottenham vs Arsenal…..The Arsenal away support taking full opportunity of David Pleats indiscretions. I was sitting 2 seats from Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett) at the time and he was not happy..he was even unhappier at the final whistle. Pleat got the sack soon after.

    “You’ve only come to see Eboue” was a good one too!

    There was the guy on the North Bank in the late 70’s and Early 80’s who would shout out “Come on you rip roaring reds”…. The North would respond sometime later with “Rip Roar, Rip Roar give us a song”. Always made me smile.

    Funny memory… Arsenal vs Tottenham…for some reason I was in the Clock End so this might have been 92-93 but there was an old guy;flat cap, rain coat, roll-up cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He must have been in his 70’s. He spent the whole of one half berating the Tottenham goal keeper (Tony Parks I think). Made me laugh anyway.

    At Highbury there have been plenty of deafening momements; certainly Arsenal vs Everton in 98 was special. I was in the North Bank upper tier and it was moving with everybody jumping around. Real Madrid was loud, Sampadoria in 95. Loads more.

    All of the Arsenal vs Barcelona games have been loud, including the one at Wembley.

  • Rufusstan

    The Emirates is a strange place for atmosphere.

    So many people in the crowd are happy most of the time to applaud, moan, cheer and clap. Which in its way is fine, its interaction and entertainment so its OK.

    The funny thing is that give the crowd a reason and they can become one of the most hostile bunches I can think of. Big European nights, cup games, or anything that just pisses them off. I remember the Everton game 2 years ago. Saha’s dodgy goal that they actually showed on the screens, and we were all certain it was offside. From that point on…

    Its a shame we cannot do that all of thetime.

  • weedonald

    How about Manchester Mausoleum or United Undisturbed or better still Manc Mumblers?

  • weedonald

    Here’s another one…..Manure Undead?

  • Grayfox001

    @Rufusstan That Everton game – the realisation the crowd at The Grove CAN have a positive effect on the team and result. I was up in gods at the time which is usually so quiet but people were going mental in pos way which I think helped us get the win. A pity we don’t do it more often.

    A good point in the article about unified signing because fans can’t hear each other. I sit north bank lower and many times ive SEEN the clock end singing ( unified pointed towards away crowd) but haven’t heard a thing. Also know people who claim not to hear the Red Action guys from clock end part of the ground but I sit near them and 80-90% of time they are starting people singing.

    Maybe we need a report into acoustics at emirates as I’m sure when we moved one of the selling points was the improved sound.