Monday, September 14, 2009

When we started this feature all those months ago, we mentioned that we’d be looking at a lot of things that were now missing from going to the football. Some that were dearly missed, or at least looked back upon fondly, and other things which it’s perhaps better that you don’t really find at stadiums these days. Today’s category falls into the latter of these.

(9) The Crowd Sway:

Crowd sways and surges weren’t exactly a common feature at Bayview Park, at least not in it’s latter years. The closest you got to such was when somebody tripped on the stairs coming down the terracing and people scattered to avoid getting scalding hot Bovril thrown all over them. Well, more tepid Bovril at old Bayview.

It wasn’t always that way, with the big crowds that packed into the old ground in the 40’s and 50’s, but the closest I ever got to any such atmosphere was at the Hibs Cup replay in 1984 when the place went mental after we scored our two goals. I was just a wee laddie then so was down the front and missed most of the “fun”!

Having never been involved in a proper packed shed crowd sway, I can only draw my reflections on it from television re-runs of old games, especially ones from the 1970’s and the big English teams and games involving the Old Firm. Watching the fans surging forward, back, left and right is quite mesmerising. It’s like some kind of modern day interpretive dance ensemble putting on their latest production.

It all seemed terrifying! You start in one place with your mates, there was some action on the pitch that got everyone excited, then the next thing you knew, you were about 20 rows down and to the right of where you were previously standing and usually no longer beside the people you came to the game with. Handy if you wanted you a better vantage point, but not if you were planning on staying there for too long. If you’d arrived late of course, you could try and calculate your movements with military precision to try and end up in the spot where you wanted to be and meet your mates. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Speaking to people who experienced this, and reading other people’s accounts, it was common to spend most of a match with your feet off the ground and just going where the sardine packed crowd took you. When you look at old crowd pictures there’s people facing in every direction!

It was also a popular tool used by football hooligans and in one particular infamous incident in 1970, Leeds fans deliberately started a crowd sway in the Stoke support that led to 61 people being hospitalised.

The Hillsborough tragedy was the obvious catalyst that put a stop to such crowd actions and the onset of all seater stadium really put an end to the dangers. When you look back at the old crowds though, it really is a miracle that there wasn’t way more fatalities long before that fateful day in 1989. People really had no control of their movements and you regularly see people looking crushed at the front and if you wanted a pie or a pee, well forget it - hence that old wet pocket “myth”.

I’ve never been a fan of all seater stadium, especially for the lower leagues, but they did probably stop other disasters happening at some point. There is something completely different when watching the top teams on TV these days though. The whole sways and surges in the Kops and Sheds really did add something to the whole fan experience and atmosphere and is probably something that all football fans should have had the benefit of experiencing at least once in their lifetime.

Perhaps the next time we’re at one of the more older fashioned terracing grounds in Scotland, we can all huddle together and have a sway for old times sake. At least if we fall we’ll have plenty of room.

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