I remember going to watch Blackpool FC home games in the 1970s with my Dad and whilst in the main the atmosphere was fine, I do remember some uncomfortable occasions in the late '70s and early '80s when the tension building up between opposing fans looked ready to tip over into violence... and on some occasions it did. Through the 1980s, this kind of violence became a staple and other than occasional trips with friends to Maine Road, Old Trafford or Elland Road, I stayed away from football.
Following some well-known disasters and with the advent of the Premier League and better stadia, football in the UK seemed to get its act together and become a place where families could return to enjoy the game and the atmosphere together.
I've been taking my son along to watch Huddersfield Town as a season-ticket holder for the past few seasons. It's been an enjoyable period, although not without its frustrations as Huddersfield have tried to escape League One, coming close on several occasions. As a spectacle though, it's been a fun day out and we have got to know the people sitting around us. We all enjoy the game and the fun bits and pieces which the club puts on at half time. During this period though, we haven't been to see Town play away from home.
On my son's Christmas list this year was a request to go and see an away game. I took advantage of the Christmas and New Year fixture list to book tickets to see Town play Notts County on January 2nd, along with travel tickets organised through the club, with the coach leaving from and returning to the Galpharm Stadium.
Before the journey I was a little apprehensive about the coach trip, thinking it may be a little rowdy for my ten-year-old son, but I was relieved to see a note on the travel tickets saying 'no alcohol on board' and, when we boarded I was pleasantly surprised to see the wide age-range of the travelling support. The coach was comfortable and safe; the journey warm and pleasant.
When we reached Meadow Lane and disembarked we were greeted by friendly stewards and welcomed into the stadium. Even though it was only 1:45pm, ahead of a 3pm kick-off, we grabbed a pie and headed to our seats, again assisted by very friendly stewards. We enjoyed watching the ground begin to fill and both teams warm up.
Many of the Town supporters seemed to stay in the bars and only come up to their seats in the few minutes ahead of kick-off. Nevertheless, everything was fine and we were impressed how many Town fans had made the journey, more or less filling the Jimmy Sirrel Stand where we had been allocated seats.
The teams came out and Town were warmly welcomed and as the whistle blew, the final stragglers from the bar claimed their seats and the game kicked off... as did the language, the venom and the bile.
It was like someone had flicked a switched and suddenly we were surrounded by a hail of abuse. It stemmed largely from men between around 18 and 30, but it wasn't exclusively men and there were some older people joining in too. The language was appalling, but I should say that, even though many can't, I can cope with some language if it's used with wit and humour, but this wasn't. It just kept coming, aimed, not only at the opposing team and the officials but also at many of the Town players!
I'd have been uncomfortable on my own and was even more uncomfortable in the company of my son. We'd been looking forward to singing and cheering the team along, but we couldn't participate in this. We watched the (frustrating) game and quietly looked forward to the coach home.
The swearing was unbelievable but so was the aggression and the frothing-at-the-mouth fury which accompanied it, there was even some completely bizarre and perplexing anti-semitism and homophobia. Quite breathtaking, and something we never see or hear at home games. It was massively disappointing. I thought, obviously naively, that we'd got rid of this from the English game... clearly not.
The stewards did nothing, not that I really expected them to. Neither did I raise my voice to those shouting around me for fear of immediate reprisals.
We won't be going to see Town play away again and I have to say it's put a different complexion on the prospect of regular home games.