In our latest Total Saints Opinion, TSP patron, Callum Donnelly, takes a humourous (well, that is his area of expertise after all....) look at St. Mary's 'life without fans' - considering whether a campaign should be started to keep us/them away.....forever!
“It’s now been eight months, two US Presidents and approximately fifteen Government U-turns since fans were allowed inside football stadiums in England.
It’s become the norm.
Footage of a cheering crowd on Match of the Day, carelessly sitting within a metre of each other, naively shaking hands and/or hugging, is like something from a forgotten age.
The absence of fans during Project Restart certainly seemed to affect teams in different ways.
Manchester Utd lost the belief they would score last minute goals….and tended to concede one instead!
Club’s like Norwich seemed to lose belief that they were professional footballers at all.
As for Saints, a run of 10 wins in the seventeen games since that original return makes them one of the form teams in the Premier League.
A rare positive during a year when my other high points revolved mostly around the Deliveroo driver turning up five minutes early!
Some people may argue that the lack of fans is a coincidence, and I’m certainly not suggesting it’s the only reason for Saints’ current form.
The work put in by the whole Club during ‘lockdown’ was commendable, and we all remember how impressive the ‘on pitch’ performances were last Christmas and New Year.
I don’t for a moment want to take anything away from the frankly astounding job that ‘King Ralph’ has done so far.
However, to disregard it as meaningless would be churlish. There’s clearly been an impact on most teams, one way or another.
I’m particularly interested in this phenomenon because I have a Masters Degree in Stand-Up Comedy (yes, really…).
Now this means two things…..
One – I’m fascinated with the relationship between a performer and their audience.
The atmosphere that can be created by a faceless mass of people, both positive and negative, and the impact this has on the focus of their attention intrigues me endlessly.
Secondly – I’m currently unemployed.
But no bother there (for now).
Whilst we await the return of the theatre industry to its 2019 glory, I’ve got time to muse on our recent ‘TSP VIP’ Patreon discussion, and Ralph’s interesting comments post Newcastle.
Saints were top of the Premier League (a fact that is completely irrelevant, but I just enjoy saying it) and Ralph was asked about the form of the team.
He intimated that working in an empty stadium has allowed the team more time to work on their style, in an environment with significantly less pressure.
So, what did he mean by this?
Well, there is the obvious, of course.
The audible moan of “Brian in row X”, spitting out a mouthful of cheeseburger in frustration as Jannik Vestergaard deigns (Danes? there’s a pun there somewhere but let me off, I haven’t worked since March…) to pass the ball back to Alex McCarthy.
I’m sure some will tell me “they’re professional footballers, they can deal with it”, but they’re also human beings and, if you think thirty-thousand people groaning when you make a decision won’t affect you, then you’ve thicker skin than me!
There’s also something called collective emotion.
Have you ever been to a comedy night where the comedian is really awful?
Like painfully bad?
It’s terrible isn’t it?
The whole audience know the act is bad, and there’s a collective awkwardness, a heavy atmosphere of tangible cringe.
Well I…erm…have “a friend” who was once on the other side of this.
Trust me, the comedian feels it too!
When a gig is going badly you are fully attuned to the atmosphere in the room and, deliberately or not, you react to it and it affects your performance.
Why is this relevant to Saints?
Well, you might be aware, especially if you’ve watched Sky coverage of any game where we’ve taken the lead in the past year, that Saints have an issue with losing leads.
Pre-lockdown we conceded regularly in the last few minutes but, since returning, that’s hardly happened at all (bar a strange injury time against Villa when the game was won).
It may sound obvious, but I think there’s a nervousness amongst fans when we’re leading!
I think my own ‘pit of hell’ would be watching Saints eternally defend a one-nil lead.
And, much like a struggling comedian, the collective anxiety of thirty-thousand people is going to transfer to the players.
Another positive of ‘fanless football’ has been the opportunity for Ralph to impact Saints’ fortunes mid-game.
During Project Restart our performances often improved drastically after a ‘pep talk’ during the drinks break, for example.
More recently, I’ve been watching the games without the added crowd noise, the novelty of fans going wild for a corner because a producer presses the wrong button having lost its early hilarity.
One thing I’ve picked up on since doing this is Ralph’s constant shouting and encouragement.
“YES INGSY, TURN, YES, NOW GO!” was one such example.
Speaking as someone who once signed up for a month of CrossFit (and nearly died!), I can attest to the fact that having a man shouting at you does help to find an extra level of performance.
When it’s someone who you trust, not to mention your boss, that level is likely to jump even higher.
In short, I think Saints have benefitted from a lack of fans and I therefore ask you all to join my movement for ‘Safe Standing....outside St. Mary’s!’
“What do we want?”, “Safe Standing…..outside St. Mary’s!”, “When do we want it?”…. etc.
OK, not really!
Personally, I can’t wait to get back to watch Saints.
But maybe, as a fanbase, we’ve now learnt a few things.
What if we encourage good ideas as much as we appreciate good outcomes?
What if we created an atmosphere of belief and positivity rather than exasperation and nervousness?
Finally, why don’t we become thirty-thousand Ralphs, screaming our support for our team so the level they reach just keeps getting higher?
I’m in if you are!?
See you all there soon – hopefully!”
Article by Callum Donnelly 9/11/2020