Silence is usually golden, except at 3pm on a Saturday down at Boothferry Park! In the past year or so, except for some notable exceptions, the Boothferry hordes have been worryingly subdued. The fabled “Boothferry Roar” exists now only in the memories of the more “mature” City supporters – recent generations of fans have become more accustomed to the plaintive meowing emanating from the terraces.
The immediate assumption of an outsider would most probably be that such problems were due to a decrease in attendance. However, the Tigers currently have their best average attendance figure (6,292 at time of writing) since the 1989/90 season, during which we flirted with the playoffs in the old Division Two.
Crowds have recently started to slip (from 7,000+ early on this season), but the defective nature of the atmosphere has been apparent long before now.
We currently have the second highest average attendance in the division, yet the relatively low crowds of recent weeks seem to have improved the atmosphere to a small extent – perhaps those fans wishing to chant feel less inhibited now the extra 2,000 have stopped coming.
One of the major factors must be the prolonged closure of the Kempton. The South Stand may well hold many more fans, but the hardcore band of fans who inhabit the East Stand generally manage the more prolonged chanting. Also, our recent trip to Sincil Bank emphasised how the atmosphere at a game can benefit from the relative proximity of rival sets of supporters (in terms of chanting rather than physical violence!). While Bunkers is the full length of the pitch from the North Stand, Kempton is far closer, allowing a greater degree of interaction/baiting/rival chanting, which can serve to ignite a crowd.
It is true that there is the potential for this in the West Stand, but the people sitting in there are mostly too well-behaved and too engrossed in their knitting to engage in verbal hostilities with opposition fans. There is also a lack of interaction between the home supporters when Kempton is fully functional it will often challenge Bunkers to “give us a song”, and vice versa.
Many people would note that there has been relatively little to sing about in recent years. The exception to this is of course our “Great Escape” from relegation last season. During the achievement of this feat, our attendances rose and the atmosphere at Boothferry Park was temporarily improved. Examples of this are the game against Scarborough, along with the wild celebrations which greeted the last minute winners of Craig Dudley and Colin Alcide, against Carlisle and Exeter respectively, and Brian Gayle’s wonderful own goal in the Shrewsbury game.
During the second half of the season we actually had something to play for – in 99/00 we look far too competent to go down, yet far too inconsistent to challenge for promotion. Thus we are stuck in mid-table obscurity with no real aim to be achieved by May, and as a result our crowds and our atmosphere have eroded. In the last week we have twice enjoyed comfortable 2-0 wins (Macclesfield and Brighton) – if these results signal the start of a consistent run and resulting playoff push, it will be very interesting to see the effect on the Boothferry Park atmosphere. For the “big cup ties” the atmosphere is superb, since the fans know it is a one-off game with the chance of real glory – a giant-killing. In general, our following at away games whips up a far superior atmosphere than at the corresponding home fixtures.
This is possibly due to the fact that to expend the extra revenue that an away game demands, you must be a fairly committed Tigers fan. Thus, the City following at away games comprises the more hardcore element of the Boothferry Park crowd, resulting in a higher concentration of those who are prepared to “sing their hearts out for the lads”. There is also a measure of pride attached to away matches – the fans are representatives of the club and the city, and want to emphasise the level of support enjoyed by the team. At York, despite only coming away with a 1-1 draw, the streets outside the ground were filled with around two thousand City fans, singing the praises of the club. At Lincoln, despite going down 2-1, there was a rousing chorus of “The Hull Flag” – would you experience that at Boothferry Park?
Overall it seems the best course of action would be to re-open the Kempton (or play all games away). This would generate a better atmosphere, thus hopefully improving the team’s results, thus bringing more people through the turnstiles, thus providing more money, thus allowing player purchases… ad infinitum.
Unfortunately, recent reports suggest this momentous event will be delayed even longer than expected. At the moment, there are encouraging signs that the atmosphere may be improving regardless of Kempton’s dilapidated state. However, it would appear that ultimately the only way to guarantee a good atmosphere at Boothferry Park would be to have a successful team playing there.