It is, perhaps, a sign of the organisation’s success that there seems to have been, since its inception, a been a steady stream of people lining up to take a pop at the football supporter’s pressure group Stand. Formed a couple of years as Stand Against Modern Football, the group might well consider that such costs are worth bearing, when the alternative might easily have been to be ignored by all and sundry. Before I say anything else, though, allow me to lay some cards on the table. I have been, in the overall scheme of things, a supporter of Stand since its inception, and have contributed to their magazine. I believe that football supporters need a radical voice which complements the broad brush – and relatively respectable demeanour – of the Football Supporters Federation and the more technically minded work of Supporters Direct. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Stand was inevitable, given the recent history of professional football on England, but I do believe that it was necessary.
Much of the criticism of Stand seems to be based principally on its original nomenclature. The addition of the phrase ‘Against Modern Football’ to its name seemed like an obvious nod towards Italian groups have protested under the banner of ‘No Al Calcio Moderno’, but from a personal perspective it always felt as if the use of this phrase was somewhat problematic, most obviously because it allowed critics an easy shot them for being nostalgists seeking to return to some sort of golden age of British football which, it can easily be countered, never really existed on the first place. Of course, it’s highly unlikely that many people within it actually seriously believe that, and it’s certainly true to say that , but this doesn’t mean that critics won’t project this upon them on account of Those Three Words.
The reality of Stand is considerably more nuanced than that, of course. Issues which do – if you’re so predisposed – matter to supporters, such as safe standing, ticket prices and greater supporters trust involvement at clubs, are the issues which, for me at least, define what Stand, as it were, stands for. Furthermore, the dropping of the ‘Against Modern Football’ part of the name in the latter part of last year would seem to indicate recognition of all of this on the part of those that hold it together. Making a stand for something rather than against many things, if you will. From a personal perspective, I was always a little apprehensive about use of the phrase “Against Modern Football” for what should be obvious reasons. If they, we, or anybody else who uses that phrase was that much against “against modern football,” we would have walked away from the game a long time ago, and that is clearly not the case. Indeed, those at whom such comments are directed might justifiably be offended by such allegations being made, often with little substantiation.
Stand is certainly a product of its time. A sense of discontentment had been growing with regard to many aspects of the culture of modern football – on the pitch, in the stands and in boardrooms – and we might even argue that that very existence of Stand has come about in no small part as a result of a systematic failure of governance on the part of authorities whose job it should be to protect the game from such people. Consider, for the example, the recent cases of the attempted name change of Hull City or the decampment of Coventry City to Northampton. Regardless of the technicalities of such stories (and it’s easy to get bogged down in technicalities when mentioning things like this in passing), these are issues that many supporters are angry with and the people entrusted with overseeing all of this have frequently – although the FA has an opportunity yet to redeem itself over the Hull City rebranding – dropped the ball over regulating it all. Stand represents a viewpoint that cuts across divides of club loyalty and which recognises that first and foremost, the one thing that we all have in common is that we all support a football club.
Coventry City and Hull City are just two clubs at which variations on a theme have occurred. Supporters of Wimbledon, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leeds United, Luton Town, Boston United, Plymouth Argyle, Rangers, Hearts, Dundee, Exeter City, Stockport County, York City, Chester City, Wrexham, Chesterfield, Portsmouth and scores have others have their own horror stories to tell. At several of the clubs listed above it was the supporters themselves that ensured its survival, when no-one else was willing to help. And if I am going to mention one thing that most definitely in favour of modern football, it will be that the network of support created by organisations such as Supporters Direct and the Football Supporters Federation has been invaluable in allowing that to happen. Perhaps it might have happened otherwise. But on the other hand, however, perhaps it wouldn’t. What we do know, though, is that the support networks that SD and the FSF provide have been invaluable to those who have volunteered themselves for what is frequently a thankless task.
But if this is the specialist area of the policy wonks, where does Stand fit into this picture? The current homepage of the website features goings-on at Tranmere Rovers, a spirited defence of the FA Cup, a piece about the Spurs supporters banned for using “antisemitic” language at White Hart Lane, Coventry City and Nicola Cortese. Very much like the pages of 200%, you might reasonably think, but there’s a fundamental difference. Whilst this site is usually – and occasionally, I almost feel, to its detriment – written by a smallish group of people who are neutral – or somewhere close to neutral; these things are seldom black and white with this sort of thing – to most stories, the stories on the Stand website are from fanzines or their websites. To put it another way, Stand is about raising conciousness, from the supporters of clubs to supporters of other clubs.
So, let’s lay this myth to rest, then. Stand is not, and to the best of my knowledge never has been, about seeking to return football to a bygone era that never existed to any significant extent. No-one with any sense would wish return to the days of the mid to late 1980s, when to attend a match was to take a risk that, broadly speaking, doesn’t exist in 2014. Nostalgia can be enjoyed whilst retaining a sense of perspective that days gone by were far from perfect. And regardless of how good or bad they may have been, those days aren’t coming back. Yet with safe standing, lower ticket prices, and increasing supporter involvement in the running of clubs, there is an alternative to the direction in which football can take in the future, if it wants to. If we wish to be passive and allow whatever happens to happen, then we can do that. For those who do want change, however, there is at least now an outlet that offers the opportunity of a voice. And that is something that we should be supporting, rather than being cynical about.
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