It is increasingly difficult to create a fan or club identity in the ‘consumer’ or ‘client’ based world of modern football. It needn’t be the case though. The game belongs to us and we might need to sing, shout or even learn to sew in order to make our voices heard.
Words: David Marples
You can tell a lot about people from the way they approach their consumption of a traditional four-fingered Kit Kat bar.
Some dive straight in, neglecting to separate each finger and simply taking a bite from two – maybe three – fingers in one bite. Others carefully separate each finger and then distribute each one to those around them in an altruistic exhibition of socialism. Then there are those who make it a priority to nibble and gnaw the chocolate away before even countenancing a gulp of crispy wafer.
We all want different things from our chocolaty treats. Likewise, we all want different things from our match day experience.
Sure, we all want a win – preferably a last minute winner after a ding-dong 4-3 thriller – but sadly, until an ‘Escape To Victory’ theme park is established, we’ll have to make do with the real life grittiness muck n nettles life that is The Championship.
In recent years, despite the best efforts of those in the Lower Bridgford, the atmosphere at the City Ground has become a little staid. The rowdy A Block in the Peter Taylor Stand seems to have been systematically disbanded. The away supporters are afforded a glorious pitch side view behind the goal. Ensuring that your bottom remains touch-tight to your seat at all times appears to be a high priority for some stewards. Flag-waving is just about tolerated, as long as you have a pre-approved safety certificate. Goal music still hasn’t quite gone away.
In comparison, away days are loud, proud and rowdy affairs, even in defeat. Despite a 3-0 defeat, the away support at Huddersfield under Stuart Pearce springs to mind as singing, chanting and general displays of support accompanied the final 15 minutes of a sorry performance. More recently, the final two away games of 2015-16 at Fulham and MK Dons were thoroughly enjoyable experiences, despite there being nothing to play for. Or maybe, this was as a direct consequence of there being precisely nothing to play for. The pressure was off. Everyone could go along and enjoy the day out. This is what it should be like every time.
It is not easy to recreate that away day atmosphere for home games though. For numerous reasons, these are quite different propositions. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that to do so is an insurmountable task.
The continent is a foreign place (obviously); they do things differently there. It seems common practice for fans to loudly and proudly display support for their team for the duration of the game, regardless of league table position, the identity of the opposition and in some cases, the car crash of the performance unfolding in front of their eyes. It’s not just the big clubs either: Cologne enjoyed a very average campaign in the Bundesliga last season but this didn’t deter home fans flag-waving, singing, chanting and generally being supportive throughout a goalless draw with Mainz in October of 2016.
This is not confined to Germany. Fans of Roda JC of the Eredivisie put on a similar show during a 2-2 draw with AZ in 2014, despite a rather limp performance in a crucial game, which went a long way to sealing their relegation come the end of the season.
There are countless more examples too. Even the Americans are doing a fine job of borrowing from northern European ultra culture and refining it to accommodate their own quirks. An evening spent standing with the Orlando City ultras – Iron Lion Firm – to witness a 3-1 defeat inflicted by a Clint Dempsey inspired hat trick for Seattle Sounders, was an eye-opening experience.
Orlando is probably not the first place you think of when asked to name a thriving football fan culture or a hotbed of support. Let’s be honest, it’s probably not even the 127,463rd place you might think of either. But this is beside the point. The fact is that for those fans congregated behind a goal at the Citrus Bowl (Or Camping World Stadium, if you must), each home game is festival time.
Featuring Kaka playing as number 10 in a somewhat unsurprisingly number 10 role, Orlando City got straight down to business and took the lead after six minutes when Seb Hines (ex-Derby County) ambled up from centre back to nod in direct from a corner.
At this stage, the Iron Lion Firm had been in constant song and flag-waving motion. There was no sitting down on the plastic seats: all stood. If you had something to wave or sing or chant or shout, you did so. All of this was choreographed from the front by capos who took it in turns to literally lead the cheer. They stood and faced their fellow ultras but they also had their eye on the game thanks to a huge jumbotron lurking at the back of the designated supporter’s area.
Gloriously, Hines’ goal was the cue for a chant so pure and beautiful in simplicity:
Seb fucking Hines. Seb fucking Hines.
(Utilising a ‘dum-dum-di-dum’ metre)
The joy was only temporary. Clint Dempsey, sporting his customary yet confusing number 2 shirt, ambled up from midfield to sweep in after a quick break from a City corner. The Sounders were good value for this too, having threatened moments earlier.
For the briefest of moments, a lull occurred in the singing and chanting from the purple hordes. As quickly as it subsided though, the noise cranked back up: this time more urgently and more passionately than before.
Come on city score a goal it's really very simple. Put the ball into the net and we'll go fucking mental.
(To the tune of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’)
Kaka - all menace and shuffles with his smart flicks and tight control – too often found himself ushered sideways and out of harm’s way. Dempsey popped up in both full back positions before once again marauding forward and getting on the end of another precise ball in from the right and once again, sweeping home. All the while, Brek Shea ran around performing a creditable impersonation of Philippe Mexes with his flowing blonde locks, but less so in terms of actually being effective.
Half time allowed the opportunity to purchase a refreshing drink to combat the sweat inducing humidity. The procurement of alcohol at a football stadium has yet to be taken away from us in England but a pox on you if you dare to even contemplate supping it beyond the concrete concourse. If a painted yellow line doesn’t prevent you from taking your seat with a flimsy glass of watered down lager, a burly steward or two will. Despite it being perfectly acceptable in Holland, Germany and even America, this simple pleasure remains forbidden to us.
Then again, at $11 a pop for a craft beer, they can keep it.
As for the demographic of these ultras, there was a pleasing gender split – just as many women were belting out the tunes as bearded men. Gender was no barrier to gratuitous swearing - rightly so.
Any hopes of a City fightback were thrown under a bus within two minutes of the restart. It came as no surprise that Dempsey slotted in after another square ball from the right. By this stage, the Sounders could have driven a London double decker bus emblazoned with a Union Jack and ten feet high images of the Spice Girls through the home defence without them even raising an eyebrow, never mind a finger.
Off camera, back stage, City’s Head Coach, Jason Kreis, taking charge of only his third game since Sdrian Heath’s (yes, that one) services were dispensed with, was probably throwing his second half tactics board through a nearby window and into the middle of nearby Lake Lorna Doone.
A Seattle player went down after a heavy challenge:
Ooh bitch get off the pitch. Get off the pitch, bitch. Get off the pitch.
The game played out as you might expect: City becoming increasingly frustrated while the Sounders moseyed up field once in a while and continued to play the ball wide and then into the middle, about eight yards in front of the City goal – a devastatingly simple yet effective ploy.
Seb fucking Hines really should have bagged a couple of goals but did a more than passable impersonation of Gareth Taylor when in front of goal i.e. not score.
All the while, the singing never ceased.
If you don't sing, if you don't jump. Go back to Seattle, you fucking punks.
And all this for a mere $25.
Beyond this flag proclaiming the intention to "Smoke the Citrus Bowl" is the spot where Jack Charlton and John Aldridge absolutely lost it with an over-offocious FIFA official back in 94 as the Irish succumbed to Mexico 2-1 at USA 94.
It would be easy to dismiss such Johnny-come-lately fan behavior as inauthentic, borrowed or a fake imitation. In unfortunate scenes, there were indeed two Viking Thunderclaps. But that’s not really important here. The fact is that even Orlando City fans have something approximating a fan culture - an identity. Admittedly, it borrows from here, there and everywhere but underneath all that, they have composed their own songs, created their own flags and what’s more, are free to wave them as much as they damned well want. It’s clearly not spontaneous – it is quite possible that song sheets have been written out and distributed in preparation, that the capos have liaised with the club in order to stand in the two small raised pens so they can face the crowd, that the whole thing has been choreographed.
Of course, this might all seem a little like enforced fun and admittedly, the sight of a drum being smuggled into a ground is enough to fill the heart with a deep and dark desire to do very bad things. But then again, maybe a sense of identity requires a bit of organisation and choreography.
All of which brings us to the question of what we can do in order to liven up the atmosphere at the City Ground, to create a sense of identity and uniqueness to our support. To be clear for a moment, it’s not that there is anything ‘wrong’ with our support – home or away. We travel in very respectable numbers away from home and although home attendances have declined, anyone who has set foot in the City Ground since around October 2014 will fully understand the reasons behind this.
It would be foolish – and more than a little embarrassing – to steal other sets of supporters’ quirks wholesale. Please lord, no Viking Thunderclaps this season. Spare us any variation of the Will Grigg song and while we’re at it, can we dispense with the dirge that is the ‘We’re the Forest boys making all the noise' chant? It is the very opposite of uplifting. Furthermore, it is generic and completely unoriginal.
If you aren’t aware of what the Forest fan group Forza Garibaldi are up to, take some time to familiarise yourself with their manifesto and plans. They don’t claim to have all the answers but what they do have is bags of passion and a desire to wring every possible ounce of enjoyment from the modern match day experience. Indeed, the atmosphere created on the terraces at Brentford was something to behold. Most in attendance that evening still find themselves whistling along to Blondie's 'Denis' at rather opportune moments, like when queuing in the supermarket checkouts.
There isn’t a right or a wrong way to consume a Kit Kat. Even those who simply sit and stare at it without uttering a word, nevermind reaching out to take a bite, are probably thoroughly enjoying the whole experience that is watching Nottingham Forest. Such folks are no doubt enduring the inner turmoil that comes with such an experience, just in their own quiet way. Not everyone is required to sing, dance and wave flags.
Despite events concerning the running of the club, there remains a determined and significant groundswell of Forest supporters who will not go gently into the night and spend Saturday afternoons in the pub watching blokes watching telly. Let’s do all we can to make supporting Forest fun again.
To contact Forza Garibaldi, contact them on Twitter (@Forza_Garibaldi). If you're not on Twitter, email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org