Please Don’t Be Seated
Teetering on a derelict “grandstand” at Samut Songkran with two thousand other Muang Thong fans praying to any god prepared to listen not to come crashing earthwards, I would have been delighted to hear my local stadium will be all seater. But the North and South Stands are huge masses of happy humanity singing and dancing together. Talk this week of turning both into seating stands is saddening and will only dissipate the great matchday atmosphere.
The South Stand in particular at the SCG is becoming increasingly packed, with stairways blocked off and people squashed together, but there is a simple answer. Know how many people can comfortably be accommodated and don’t allow anyone else in. Tickets have numbers on and there is now an efficient group of security staff on hand. People visiting Thai matches for the first time get dewy eyed and wringing wet with sweat and warm Leo after singing and dancing to the booming drums and megaphones. Losing that experience is not a necessary trade off for the advantages it creates for the home team.
Asian clubs coming from cavernous and mainly empty stadiums are greatly affected by the intense atmosphere here. When MT played Syrian side Al Karamah in the quarter finals of the AFC Cup two years ago the away team visibly froze as, by their own admission, they couldn’t cope with the intensity of the atmosphere and gave up a one nil first leg lead to go out 2:1.
The muted atmosphere at most games at the Emirates has lead to Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger raising the issue of limited and controlled terracing. It is hard to see that happening, but it would certainly help. In 1981, Coventry City converted Highfield Road to all-seating, the first club in England to do so. This move, forced on the fans, proved unpopular, with attendances declining, and terracing was reinstated at one end in 1985.
There is also the issue of costs. Thai fans deserve to have stable ticket prices. The SCG East and West stands went up this season to 200 and 150 Baht respectively for central seats and it will clearly cost more than the current 100 Baht to sit where people used to stand in the North and South Stands. Perhaps this is aimed at nudging people towards season tickets which, at 1000 baht for children and starting at 1,700 Baht for adults are good value if you have that cash at one time. But many Thai fans have to pay game by game as they get money and it would be deeply disappointing to marginalise them.
Thai football has inept oversight and poor referees, but it has atmosphere. Even the handful of Police United fans at Thai Port last weekend sang and danced through the turgid fare on view. We take that away at our peril. Like the Emperor’s new clothes, when people stop shouting, the nakedness beneath will be there for all to see.