Design Safari – Football

I’ve now reached the finale of this assignment, the football match. Eventually I chose to attend McDiarmid Park, home to St Johnstone Football Team. The match was on Wednesday evening and as the day went on I started to get a little nervous. As I had no idea about anything I decided to take advantage of my communication skills and use the telephone! I phoned the football ground and was greeted by a lovely friendly voice, which put me at ease immediately. I explained I was going to the match that night and that this was my first time, this didn’t seem to surprise her as I thought it would and she asked which team I was supporting! Didn’t expect that, so said I was supporting St Johnstone (as they are closer to my home and I thought they would have a greater amount of fans to observe being the home team). I was told to get there early 7pm for a 7.45 kick off and that I could park on the site but there would be a charge of £2.00, that I should head to the East Stand and it would be £12.00. So off I set not realising there were road works on the motorway up to Perth, arriving at the ground but then wasn’t sure which entrance to go in with my car! Not sign posted at all. I decided to go to the one where there were police/security! It was a bit daunting seeing such a police presence and so many people on foot walking at speed, full of determination. After talking to a man with a walkie talkie and fluorescent jacket I was directed where to take my car then a lady with a walkie talkie and fluorescent jacket asked me for £3.00 – the price had gone up in less that 2 hours.

As I walked to the ground I felt a rush of anticipation I wasn’t sure where the East Stand was so had to ask again then came upon a barrier of walkie talkies and fluorescent jackets – MY bag would then be searched by another walkie talkie fluorescent jacket man! Such security and how naive am I, I obviously looked really dodgy and suspicious, of course they didn’t realise I was a Design Student only there to observe! I got in a queue to find out it was for season ticket holders only – arghhh! so then had to go to the next entrance and pay £20.00! In front of me was a huge steel barrier – floor to ceiling, at this stage I really wanted to turn round and go home, I had to ask how to get through and realised it was a turnstile. Once through this steel monstrosity I was faced with a concrete wall and not sure which way to go – people were just standing and talking so decided to go and explore and pretend I knew what I was doing.  I found an opening in the concrete and was faced with the flood lights and green – it was actually quite amazing to go from such hard and cold surroundings to this vast expanse of green and light.  Then the fun began where do I sit?   I had to ask another fluorescent jacket where I sit and was told anywhere there wasn’t a sticker and a number – hunt the seat began.

so this is where I sat and my worry and fear of crowds and being crushed started to vanish as the rest of the supporters started to arrive – it was a real eye opener, families, couples, children and groups of men/ women and both.  There were all ages of men and women and I would say there were as many women as men and certainly a lot of children who all felt quite at home and were running about. Grannies and Grandpas with daughters and their children.  Every one seemed to know where they were going and even though they weren’t all in numbered labelled seats they all headed for particular seats.  The seats were pull down plastic and very cold to sit on, I noticed two older ladies had bought cushions (wish I’d thought of that).  Children climbed over the seats to save disturbing those in the row and at one point a girl in front slipped as she was climbing and spilled her juice all over herself and her brother, their granddad was oblivious to what was happening! One couple who caught my eye were  late 20’s early 30’s they were wearing designer clothes very stylish with 3 young children all dressed immaculately.  Perhaps he had been a footballer, his wife had perfect makeup and hair and big jewels, they disappeared from view so I couldn’t watch them through the match but at half time he collected enough refreshments for a party!

Younger children continued to play and run about throughout the match and even though it was late they seemed really happy.

I was becoming to realise this wasn’t just a match but an occasion and more than that – it was very normal for those who continued to arrive, friends were greeted and the barrier in the photo above was the meeting point where groups came chatted amicably and then went to their seats.  Juice, huge bags of sweets, pies, the biggest pink coloured hot dogs in creation with bright orange mustard (Lucys’ project came to mind) and cups of tea etc were being consumed in vast quantities.  Music was played very loudly at the beginning which enhanced the party/occasion atmosphere and although it was far from Disney land I imagined some sort of mascot running around the pitch.  The football ground has to some degree been disneyized  – there’s a restaurant, Super J’s childrens’ club, conferencing and events, lotto and a business club.

Below on the mind map are some of the observations I noted from the fans ….

We discussed in a semester one lecture Simmels thoughts of  how those who mix together dress the same to fit in and be accepted, with the football match it was inevitable that the majority of the home fans would have the colours of the team and they certainly wouldn’t wear the colours of the opposition, “fashion on the one hand signifies union with those in the same class, …… and the exclusion of all other groups”, Simmel 1957 could easily have been talking about football fans here.

What was also interesting whilst observing, was the reaction of the young fans, if something happened on the pitch they immediately looked to the older middle aged fans for their response and then they followed by doing exactly the same, social anthropologists would have been fascinated  I’ve never seen such a response before and got quite excited as this happened throughout the match.  The middle aged fans behind me were ordinary guys who when they first arrived were chatting easily with each other and were obviously friends who meet often and were talking about their families and children.  However they became animalistic when their team were fouled and constantly booed the no.11 Aberdeen player when he kicked the ball when I asked why I was told he had previously fallen down in the penalty box to try and get a penalty, I found this really awful and seems like a form of group bullying but was told this happens all the time and in some cases makes the player improve his game!   They were very abusive against the referee who apparently earns £800/ game and many times I ‘jumped out of my skin’  as they were shouting and booing and telling him how to do his job.  In January we discussed the Canon, a list of Art works which was said to be the best in the world but each person has their own thoughts on what should be in this list, or any list of favourites.  The fans at the match were also doing this, discussing players and tactics, saying who they thought should have been played, each with their own personal view.  As the match progressed the atmosphere also got exciting as the home team had missed 3 attempts on goal and play had moved to the park in front of me I found that I had started ooing and aahing with every goal attempt missed and had to laugh at myself for getting carried away with the crowds enthusiasm.

There wasn’t much singing at all and again was told that the crowd wasn’t big enough for them to sing however at one point the Aberdeen fans did sing.

Just before half time a lot of the crowd disappeared to get more refreshments probably to beat the queues and I decided I too would have a Bovril as by now I was freezing cold and shivering and I’d heard it was tradition to have a Bovril at half time.  This was a very social 15 minutes with lots of chat between the crowd I chatted to a young boy behind me and asked if he was enjoying the match he said “no he wasn’t that he wanted a goal!” Then to my surprise I met someone I knew and started chatting and he was saying he’d been given the job of encouraging and looking after family membership.  It seems that St Johnstone is one of the most family oriented clubs and I feel that you would soon be accepted if you were a regular there and obviously supported The Saints.

Initially my fear of going to the football match was of crowds, bad behaviour and getting swamped by the crowd etc but Im wondering how much of my preconceptions were influenced by what is reported in the press and seen on the TV, bad behaviour is always reported and when you think that sometimes at a football match there are 30,000 + supporters its always the 6% of bad behaviour not the 94% of great behaving fans that we hear about.

The fact remains that this was my first time, had I been excluding myself for 50 years from this obviously huge occasion? Where does this fit with Bourdieus’ theory in “The Love of Art” that having a taste for art is learned rather than naturally inbuilt with in us – his argument that working class people don’t go to museums because they exclude themselves thinking they’re not sure how they would fit in or how they would behave once there , could it be that they don’t go because they haven’t, like me been brought up with football so don’t actually think about going, I don’t suppose I would ever have attended this or any other match had this assignment not been set . The short time in the ground made me realise its not even about class but tradition into which you’re born.  It was obvious by the different generations that were there, that this was something that crossed all ages, abilities and social classes. I had been bought up to go to museums and art galleries, libraries and church but not football, my dad loved motorbike scrambling and that was where, as little children we would go with a flask of coffee and luncheon meat sandwiches smothered with Daddies brown sauce, that was our tradition!  What would Bourdieu think of todays museums and galleries which have been made far more interactive and family friendly through disneyization even Historic Scotland make adverts to appeal to the young and make historic buildings more exciting to draw in the crowds.

Here is the link to the highlights of the match 🙂 enjoy

One of my daughters also went to a football match for the first time that night – hers was a very different experience to mine though, it was the Rangers v’s Celtic match, need I say more?

Simmel, G., 1957. Fashion. The American Journal of Sociology 62(5), 541 – 558.

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