Monday, September 21, 2009

When we first started this series, we mentioned that as East Fife fans we were in a fortunate position that a lot of the things that we would be looking at are still around in the lower leagues, or are at least disappearing at a much slower pace than elsewhere in football.

One such thing is the traditional changing of ends at half time and in UK League football there are now only a handful of clubs that allow the fans to partake in this and many of those can be found in the bottom two Scottish divisions.

10 - CHANGING ENDS:

All seater stadiums have killed off a lot of the old traditions in football and changing ends to watch your team shoot into the goals in front of you is one them unfortunately.

As with a lot of fan related things, there was something tribal about it all, especially as an away supporter. Walking around the ground, past the home support and claiming your new end, All that was missing was driving a flag in your club colours into the ground.

When making the mass move, it was always important to eyeball the home support as they walked on by, yes, sometimes it did lead to fisticuffs but usually nothing too serious and was just part of the whole thing. There was mostly just good natured banter between both sets of fans as you passed by each other.

It was also important to keep an eye on such end changes to stop ending up in the wrong end if you went for a pie at half time and were too engrossed in reading your programme and munching away as you wandered back round to your spot for the second half, only to be surrounded by strange people you didn’t know wearing the wrong colours.

Obviously with the bigger matches, larger crowds and segregation, changing ends was a logistic impossibility and discouraged by the police. Something that should probably have been taken into account for our Scottish Cup fourth round tie against Arbroath at Gayfield in 1993. The fists certainly flew that day, and it wasn’t at half time, when Danny McGrain beard wearing Smokies fans wandered into our end to cause trouble and as fans spilled onto the pitch, the Arbroath fans got their just desserts. That was always the danger of allowing the fans to change ends and wander freely round the ground.

When hooliganism was in full flow in England and at some clubs in Scotland, segregation was the first killer of the traditional end change. But as long as there wasn’t a fence in place, as was the case in most of the Scottish lower league grounds, it never seemed to matter too much and for the crowds sizes being attracted it actually helped to add to the atmosphere. Games always seem more enjoyable and the fans all the louder when your team is trying to score right in front of you.

When all seater stadium started to come in though, changing ends became a lot more difficult, as did being able to just wander around the stadium as you pleased. Set ends for away fans, often with no access to any other side of the ground, meant that you just had to stay put for the whole 90 minutes and this became the norm.

Even at the grounds where you can change ends, fans these days seem so used to not moving from their spot any more for the whole game that they just don’t bother making the change any more.

Look at the last few times we’ve played at Gayfield or up at Forfar’s Station Park. Two of the few remaining grounds where we can all congregate together at each end during the game, but grounds where we just tend to occupy a spot along the sidelines and that’s us until we head home. The home fans are still a bit inclined to making the half time switch, but that’s probably due to them doing that same thing every two weeks. To them that is still the norm, to us we just don’t want to seem to move any more.

Maybe next time we do play at one of these grounds we can remind ourselves about the fun of changing ends and reacquaint ourselves with just how much more enjoyable the game becomes when we do. It might just help get some cracking atmospheres back on the terraces again as well.

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