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Sponsorship, The Media & Football Violence
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TV & Spornsorship

Cigarettes and Alcohol

Replica Kits

Hero Worship

Media Sensationalism

Press and Hooliganism

Safety Solutions

Box-Shaped Sport

Glossary of Terms

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Sport and British Society


The following section is reproduced and in some parts adapted, with kind permission from The British at Play – a social history of British sport from 1600 to the present, by Nigel Townson and published by Cavallioti Publishers, Bucharest (1997). It is part of the British Council series British Cultural Studies produced by the British Council in Romania. For further details of this series contact:

Mona Dobre-Laza
the British Council
Calea Dorobantilor 14 71132 Bucharest

Television & Sponsorship

Sponsorship and television were made for each other. Of all the various media for exposure through sponsorship, television is the most effective and constitutes a relatively cheap form of advertising. Carlsberg beers, for example, might sponsor Liverpool Football Club to the tune of two million pounds, but, if the team has a successful year, the distinctive Carlsberg logo will be seen on our television screens for the full ninety minutes of a dozen or more league and cup games. Other games will have their highlights shown, plus the best goals will get repeated ad nauseam, so there could well be upwards of thirty hours of television time in which we are constantly reminded that Carslberg beers are the sponsors of Liverpool F.C.

Of course, it is not just through television that this sort of sponsorship pays off. Replica kits have become big business, and although the youngsters [mostly] who buy the shirts might pay more attention to whether or not they have the name ‘McManaman’ or ‘Fowler’ on the back, they will be carrying the Carslberg logo around with them every time they dress in the colours of their heroes.

Despite the undoubted importance of this sort of spin-off advertising, television is where the real impact is made. Television commercials are expensive, and the current limit on advertising on ITV is only six minutes in every hour. With the sponsorship of sports events, company names are on the screen almost constantly for anything from one and a half to eight hours in a day. Sponsors such as Cornhill insurance, who support the test matches [internationals] involving the England cricket team, have almost unlimited advertising at a fraction of the normal cost. They have developed the art of raising public awareness of the company to such a degree that they have even managed to profit from cricket’s traditional enemy, England’s weather. Whenever there are rain interruptions, the umpires may be seen inspecting the pitch under the cover of huge umbrellas, which are emblazoned with the Cornhill Insurance motif and bear the company’s distinctive gold and black colouring.

Public awareness of Cornhill Insurance rose from 2% to around 17% in only four years through their sponsorship of the England cricket team [Lawrence:10]. Their name appears in every conceivable location, most of which appear on the television screens.

Cigarettes and Alcohol

Yet there is no doubt that sponsorship is occasionally used as a flimsy disguise to circumvent the laws of television advertising. Cigarette advertising, for instance, is illegal on television in the UK, but the tobacco companies are not prohibited from sponsoring sporting occasions, and their names and logos are thus splashed across TV screens hour after hour during cricket matches, grands prix, golf tournaments and the like. Alcohol adverts are not banned from television, but are strictly controlled, yet drinks companies are also voracious sponsors, opting for all the aforementioned sports, plus football and rugby. Golf, a particularly telegenic sport, has events sponsored by companies such as Dunhill, Benson & Hedges and Johnnie Walker: Rothmans has become associated with the football yearbook [but does not sponsor televised football]: John Player was once synonymous with cricket, and Benson & Hedges still is: Marlboro sponsors a formula 1 racing team: Stones Brewery sponsors the rugby league championship: Courage Brewery sponsors the rugby union championship: and, last but not least, Silk Cut cigarettes sponsor the Rugby League Challenge Cup. Perhaps it is not surprising that the third biggest sponsorship industry, after tobacco and alcohol, is life insurance.

Football teams are particularly well supported by brewers, more so than in any other country in Europe. It is uncommon, but not unheard of, in Germany, The Czech republic and Belgium for the top teams to be sponsored by brewers: in Spain and Portugal it would be very unusual indeed: and in Italy you could certainly not imagine Heineken or Budweiser printed across the chest of Maldini or Baggio. In England and Scotland, on the other hand, the image of the beer-swilling supporter has still not been eradicated, despite the efforts of some clubs: there is an irony [or hypocrisy] in the fact that many of the clubs who clamour for a family atmosphere not only sell alcohol inside the ground, but wear the names of breweries on their shirts.

Replica Kits

The big sponsorship and advertising boom has been in clothing, partly through the footwear ‘war’ [Adidas, Nike and Reebok in particular] but most noticeably, in the British context, through the replica kit industry This has a multi-million pound turnover, and has brought with it some rather cynical, but effective business practices. A little over a decade ago, teams tended to play in one kit, unless there was a colour clash with the opposition, but even then the replica kit industry was big business: Adidas were turning over a million pounds a year as far back as 1988 from their deal with Manchester United [Mason, 1989:2:166].

By that time, however, Umbro had come up with the idea of persuading [i.e. paying] teams to change the design of their shirts every two years, thereby obliging the fanatical supporter to buy a new shirt at regular intervals. Two years soon became one year, and eventually teams were producing two, or even three kits a season, so that the parents of fashion-conscious young football fans were having to spend over a hundred pounds a year to guarantee the street credibility of their young ones.

Notorious offenders were Manchester United, who not only brought out new home and away kits, but introduced ‘specials’ such as the 1992 Newton Heath centenary kit, a garish Victorian combination of yellow and green which did not improve the average supporter’s finances and did even less for his or her sartorial reputation. Since then, it has become a feature of the game that the Red Devils may play in blue, white, grey, black or even red! They are by no means the only team guilty of this marketing strategy, however, and Newcastle United’s astute financial directors are recouping some of the sixty million pounds they have recently spent [on a side which, so far, has failed to win anything] by producing ever more ‘trendy’ new kits. The industry has become such big business that Manchester United, whose recent phenomenal success and traditional popularity have meant that they are the runaway leaders in replica kit sales, recently signed a six-year shirt sponsorship deal worth, reputedly, sixty million pounds. [The club says this figure is an exaggeration, but has refused to give details of the actual agreement.]

If persuading teams to change kits was a gilt-edged idea, then the introduction of the personalised shirt was 22-carat solid gold. When the Premier League was formed in 1992, squad numbers were allocated to players for the season, so instead of starting a match with players numbered from 1 to 11, teams had players with numbers such as 14, 22 or 30. In addition, the player’s name is now written across the back of the shirt. This has been an immediate success with star-struck young supporters, who are now able not only to proclaim their club loyalty but to advertise the fact that their idol is Giggs, Shearer, Beckham, Berkamp, or even Andy Thackeray of third-division Rochdale.

Clubs have made a lot of money as sales have soared, and the only ones to lose out are, once again, the fans. First of all, payment for printing the name on the shirt is by the letter. More upsetting to the fans, however, is the transfer of a player from one club to another. It is impossible to guess how many Blackburn Rovers shirts with ‘SHEARER’ above the number nine were torn up, burned or fed through the shredder in the autumn of 1995 when he joined Newcastle, and the departure of the Romanian, Dan Petrescu, from Sheffield Wednesday to Chelsea, caused a storm of protest from the parents of fans who had been flocking to the club shop to buy replicas of his shirt.

Hero Worship

Idol-worship is part of the cult of the individual which is promoted by the press and supported by advertisers. Citroen used Ryan Giggs to enhance the image of their latest car as ‘the best corner taker in the world’, and David Ginola is currently much sought after by advertising agencies for his photogenic good looks. The sponsorship of individuals has a long history. Anglers between the two world wars were sponsored by the manufacturers of fishing tackle [Lowerson, 1989:30] and football players’ pictures appeared on cigarette cards at the same time, although Holt points out that the players sometimes received no real payment for their services [1989:314].

Currently, the sponsorship of the individual is an industry in itself, and, apart from increasing by a high factor the earning power of the top sports stars, has led to the rapid rise in importance of the sporting personality’s personal agent, an unpopular figure in the eyes of many connected with the world of sport. Negotiations with agents are cited by football managers [in a poll conducted by the magazine Four-Four-Two in October, 1995] as one of the ‘nightmares’ of the job. But if the agent is an unpopular and unfortunate by-product of the cult of the individual, then event sponsorship [or team sponsorship] has given rise to the ubiquitous press conference. Refusal to take part can lead to contractual difficulties with the sponsors [Holt:323], whilst acceptance can lead to embarrassment for the interviewee, as in the case of Steffi Graf when questioned about her fathers tax-evasion. More often, however, it is the television viewer who has to squirm as he or she sits through platitudes and clichés from individuals whose sporting talent is unquestioned, but whose public speaking skills are minimal.

One aspect of individual sponsorship and advertising promotions which has helped redress an imbalance is that women can make at least as much as men in some sports, notably tennis. Walker [272] cites the case of Chris Evert who, in the mid-eighties, was advertising hair products, a sports club, clothes, tennis equipment, tea, cereals, Rolex watches and shoes, among other things. Steffi Graf’s list is even longer, and she is one of several tennis stars who have given their names to perfumes and beauty products. A player’s success, although important, is not the only criterion as far as manufacturers and advertising agencies are concerned. ‘Image’ can count for more than ranking points: this is borne out by the fact that, even when ranked number one in the world, the pleasant but, some would say, uncharismatic Austrian, Thomas Muster, earned far less than the likes of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras from private sponsorship and advertising deals. However, at least it is still the performances that count towards world rankings, and we do not yet have to endure league tables of commercial success outside the sport.

Media Sensationalism

The sporting press has long been an important aspect of Britain’s sports culture. Football ‘pinks’ and ‘greens’ have been with us for a century; in the 1930s one page in six of the Sunday papers was devoted to sport; in 1955 an astonishing 46% of the Daily Mirror was given over to it [Mason, 1989:1:3]; in the mid-eighties an average of 18% of tabloid newspaper space was dedicated to sport [Hargreaves:139]; yet today all the quality newspapers have separate sports sections on Sundays and, in some cases, on Mondays. In fact the British public has been surprisingly constant in its reading of the sports pages, given the strength of the competition from other media.

From the mid nineteen-fifties, televised sport became an increasingly important part of the sports fan’s diet, and it offered something that the newspapers could not - live action and immediate results. Television, in effect, turned sport into a mass-audience spectacle to an extent previously unknown. More recently, the increased sports coverage on radio - BBC’s Radio 5 is very sports oriented - and the advent of first, teletext and then satellite and cable television channels have further challenged the relevance of the back pages of the morning paper. Yet these sports pages continue to hold their fascination for millions of Britons, despite everything the other media can do to displace them: indeed, the market for specialist sports magazines has never been healthier.

What is it then, that enables the newspaper to hold its audience in a field where, after all, it is results that matter, and the results are already yesterday’s news by the time they appear on the breakfast table?

The simple answer is that the newspapers have changed their focus. The match reports and the results are still there, and we read them even if we know the scores - the reports give us, perhaps, a different perspective on the game, and the results include statistics, such as crowd figures, winning [or losing] sequences and top-scorers tables, which may interest us. Certainly, the league tables can be perused in a more leisurely manner than that afforded by television, but these also appear on teletext, and, on their own, do not provide a reason for many of us to turn immediately to the sports section.

What the newspapers offer us which the television and radio stations do not, or at least not in as much detail, is the in-depth interview or analysis, in the case of the broadsheets, or, in the case of the tabloids, the sensational behind-the-scenes story. The tabloid press easily outsells the quality press, with The Sun and The News of The World the biggest-selling daily and Sunday papers, respectively: and the tabloid sports regimen is one of scandal, scoop and lack of subtlety. Sex, bribes, drugs, booze, player-transfer scoops, manager-sacked scoops, why-England-must-beat-Zimbabwe-or-go-home-in-disgrace specials: all of these sell newspapers, whether or not they are factually accurate, relevant, fair or even well-written.

Punning headlines with an increasingly tenuous connection to the English language have become the norm, and many of them are personally insulting and even vulgar; occasionally they are funny. Graham Taylor, the hapless former manager of the England soccer team, was subjected to a sustained and vindictive personal attack from the tabloids which visibly altered his public persona and no doubt caused considerable pain and upset to himself and his family - ‘turnip’ was one of the kinder epithets used about him.

Newspapers, then, tend to sensationalise because television has stolen the news element from them. Brailsford [1992:131] is of the opinion that the tabloids, in particular, use the individual as the focus of their attention, rather than the team, and that the aim is to build that person up and then knock him or her down. The higher the pedestal they are put on, the further they have to fall, so it is in the papers’ interests to cultivate the individual so that when the sensational story comes - ‘Giggsy bonked me three times in a night’, says top model, or Gazza's drunken orgy in dentist’s chair - it is seen as an item of national scandal, rather than the crass and often inaccurate intrusion into an individual’s private life that it actually represents. Brailsford also makes the interesting claim that the tabloids are virtually incomprehensible to someone not familiar with British television culture.

The Press and Hooliganism

The media have often been held partially responsible for the violence that blighted English soccer in the seventies and eighties: Holt [1989:326] cites the effect of sensationalist headlines, which encouraged the public to take a moral stance, but which also supplied a role for fans to act out.

Hooliganism at football matches is not a new problem. Dunning [8] believes that the press is responsible for ‘de-escalating the the inter-war years and escalating it from the 1960s onwards’.

Examples of tasteless jingoism were common during the European Football Championships, held in England in 1996. On one infamous occasion The Mirror caused a storm by picturing members of the England football team in battle gear before the semi-final game against Germany. For several days, headlines and reports were filled with metaphors of war and anti-‘Hun’ xenophobia abounded. That the game passed off as peacefully as it did was a relief and, under the circumstances, a credit to the supporters of both teams.

Dunning’s most telling attack on the media [ibid: 150/4] is over the astonishingly naive invention of the ‘league table of violence which created a national hierarchy of football hooligans’ [he cites the worst culprits as being The Sun, The Mirror and The Mail]. The league tables listed the worst-behaved fans in the country in order of violent conduct, and was, unsurprisingly a catalyst for more trouble between those near the top of the list: pride demanded that rival teams had to be taken on and beaten in order to climb up the table. But it was not just the tabloids who were to blame: The Observer also ran articles based on a knee-jerk reaction to a non-violent demonstration [ibid: 174/5], pandering to the public’s appetite for moral outrage. In his conclusions, Dunning stresses that we cannot blame the press for the whole issue, but that they must bear some responsibility [ibid: 241]: he claims that the media is ‘one of the factors at work in shaping the specific character of the football hooligan’ and refers to a ‘media-orchestrated moral panic’. Hargreaves [148 ff.] focuses on the same topics; the sensationalism of the tabloids, the fixation of the media - including television - with pictures of violent scenes, and the attitude that hooliganism is ‘part of the moral decline of the country’: he is particularly bothered by excessive use of close-up photography after the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985.

The hooligan question is a complex and involved issue. There are several theories to explain the phenomenon, some more plausible than others, but none of them entirely satisfactory. Among the causes most often quoted are alcohol, unemployment [cited by left-wing politicians], and the permissive society [blamed by politicians on the right of the spectrum]. The theories are discussed in detail by Dunning and his colleagues from The University of Leicester, the acknowledged authorities in the field, in their definitive work on the subject, The Roots of Football Hooliganism [see bibliography]. They also investigate the stereotype of the hooligan as ‘white, urban unskilled school-leavers in their teens’, an image which is predominantly correct. However, the eighties saw the development of a new and sinister trend involving well-dressed hooligans who travelled in comfort and in small groups to avoid police detection. These ‘firms’ used extreme violence in conditions which favoured them, sometimes picking on solitary individuals rather than taking part in pitched battles against difficult odds as in the traditional hooligan scenario. In some cases, they went so far as to leave calling cards by their victims, with messages such as, ‘Congratulations, you have just met the ICF’ - the Inter-City Firm, West Ham’s notorious gang [Dunning:180].

Responses to Heysel and Hillsborough - Safety Solutions

Whether Heysel came about as a result of orchestrated violence or the incompetence of organisers is debatable; the most feasible response is that both were to blame. The Hillsborough disaster of 1989, however, when 95 Liverpool supporters were crushed to death after barriers collapsed at an FA Cup semi-final match, was undeniably attributable to bad management. This was a common problem in the nineteen-eighties, when crowd capacities were very approximate, stewarding was often incompetent, and forged tickets caused both discontent and over-crowding. Brailsford [1992:124 writes]:

The even more tragic Hillsborough disaster of 1989 confirmed what many thought at the time - that the real danger was from inadequate stewarding and supervision in old and unsafe grounds, more than from rioting supporters.

The Taylor Report, commissioned after Hillsborough to investigate the state of the country’s grounds, has had a dramatic effect on comfort and safety at football grounds [albeit at the price of a loss of atmosphere]. The terraces, the traditional standing areas which have seen most violent and tragic incidents, have disappeared from the Premier League, and many clubs now boast state-of-the-art homes which are both welcoming and secure. Huddersfield’s new MacAlpine Stadium, Manchester United’s revamped 55,000-seater stadium at Old Trafford, Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, and St James’ Park, Newcastle, are among the grounds which have drawn praise and admiration from around Europe: even clubs at the lower end of the scale have been involved in the changes, and Northampton Town, of the third division, have completely new surroundings in which to entertain the supporters.

The re-designing and rebuilding of grounds has reduced crowd capacities, sometimes by as much as 40%, owing to the insistence on all-seater accommodation. Numbered seating restricts and controls those getting in, helps to identify forgeries, and, importantly, has encouraged more women and children to come to games: there is also now almost no risk of the swaying and charging which caused so many accidents in the past. Sometimes, the supporters’ associations themselves, often accused of harbouring hooligans, have been as involved as the clubs in the safety measures - although they rarely see eye-to-eye with each other.

Box-Shaped Sport

Along with the railway, television has had the biggest impact of any single factor on the shaping and organisation of sport in Britain. Everybody who writes on sport has something to say about the effect that television has had on either the way that sports are constructed or the way we perceive what is happening. According to Holt [1989:323], sports have now become media events, but it tends to be the media who now influence the event rather than vice-versa. Brailsford describes sport nowadays as ‘box-shaped’ and suggests that it has ‘lost touch with reality’ [1991:143] and Hargreaves [141ff.] feels that the use of close-ups and the limitations of the camera distort the way we view sporting events. Significantly, Shipley considers that boxing has actually changed as a sport because of the mass appeal of television [93 & 109]. He contends that the television spectator is, by and large, ignorant of the sport’s subtleties, wanting only fast action and knockdowns. These tastes are catered for - and probably arose from - the highlights programmes which show only the principal moments. Similar claims could be made about cricket, where six hours’ play is often condensed into a twenty-five minute highlights slot: the battle of wits between, say, a spin bowler and a batsman on the defensive are therefore impossible to appreciate.


Another of the criticisms levelled at television is that it is responsible for the phenomenon of falling ‘gates’ [attendances] at live sports events. However, gates were already falling before television took such a hold on mass culture, and, although television doubtless gave the spectator a more comfortable [and cheaper] option than the stadium or track, there were other reasons, too, for the decline in the numbers of people who spent their Saturday afternoons at football matches and at the racecourse. The fifties had been the boom time for attendances, but from the mid-sixties onwards what Hargeaves calls ‘a return to family-centredness’ [116], along with increased leisure time and money, signified a change in leisure habits. It was also the case that the introduction of off-course betting drastically reduced the numbers travelling to racecourses, many of which were inaccessible and had poor facilities. Certainly, minor club matches had low attendances in rugby when England or Wales were on the television, but the organisers have since learned to rearrange club matches whenever the national team is playing [Williams: 332].


Although television certainly has a case to answer, the revenue it brings is an important aspect of many clubs’ finances, and lower attendance is therefore compensated for. This is certainly true of live football, where the smaller clubs, such as Coventry and Wimbledon, might not fill their grounds when the cameras come [or, indeed, on many other occasions], but, like all Premiership clubs, they will receive 8.2 million pounds from the recent television deal with BSkyB. Many of the bigger clubs still manage to sell every seat, whether or not the cameras are there, a consequence of the ground improvements which mean that football has become a pleasant weekend leisure option rather than an ordeal. [Matches on Sundays also help, as they do not interfere with family shopping.]

Rule Changes

The more quantifiable effects of television on sport are those which affect timing and the rules. For example, the half-time break in Premiership matches is now fifteen minutes, rather than ten. This is not to allow the players more time to rest, nor is it to alleviate the crush of spectators at the bar or toilets. The break was in fact extended in order to allow for two separate television advertising slots between halves; it is, after all, advertising revenue which allows the television companies to operate. Of course, the commercial break can backfire in sports events which do not allow for convenient breaks. The Observer notes [10.03.96] that it is part of live broadcasting folklore that exciting events will happen during the adverts; ITV’s recent foray into the presentation of formula 1 motor-racing has shown this actually happens with annoying frequency.

On occasion, and usually to howls of protest from traditionalists, rules are changed to accommodate tight television schedules and to appease the appetites of the action-hungry television viewer. The tie-break was introduced into tennis because of the demands of television companies. Previously, matches could continue indefinitely and played havoc with scheduling. Cricket introduced its one-day version [matches are normally four or five days] to attract a wider audience, and brightly-coloured kits with team and player names were brought in to make the game visually more spectacular. Despite initial complaints, however, these and similar changes have become accepted in the sports concerned. Although we must allow for the reservations expressed by Shipley about highlights taking over from live events, it is not unreasonable to say that television has succeeded in presenting sport in ways which have increased their appeal, so widening their audiences and bringing revenue to the sports concerned.

Terrestrial v. Satellite

For three decades, sports ‘purists have been complaining that television has been damaging sport in the pursuit of money. In an ironic turnaround, it is the television companies that are now expressing anger and fear over the effect of satellite and cable television on sport [and, incidentally, on audience figures for the terrestrial stations]. The rich, multi-national television networks are buying sports up in a wholesale manner, signing contracts with organising bodies for exclusive deals and thereby preventing other companies from showing anything but edited highlights.

The signing of television contracts has recently caused friction in rugby union, where the other British nations and France at first refused to play England in the Five Nations’ Championship because of a dispute over television money. Rugby league has also been affected, and last year’s Australian season was thrown into turmoil by the inability of players and organisers to agree on a television deal. The Observer [1703.96] carries an article complaining that BSkyB has bought the television rights for the new Rugby Super League, despite having relatively few subscribers, therefore depriving most fans of the chance to see the games. In fact the fans can, of course, see the games by taking out a subscription to Sky Sports, and it is the disappearance of ‘free’ sport that has really upset many critics.

Despite gloomy predictions, there is no possibility of all the major sporting events being monopolised by one company, for there exists in the UK a system of listed events which is designed to prevent just such an eventuality. So the FA Cup Final, the World Cup Final, the Olympics, The Derby, Wimbledon, England’s cricket matches and a number of other spectacles cannot be bought up by one television operator. Parliament is also currently considering legislation to stop ‘bundling’, a new term which refers to buying up an event completely, including live action and recorded highlights. This has come about because BSKYB has been refusing to let the BBC show highlights of cricket matches, having previously done the same with golf’s Ryder Cup.

In fact, it would appear that an increasing number of viewers of televised sport accept that satellite companies are putting in the money and have the right to buy the big events, and more and more mesh dishes are appearing on the walls of houses throughout the country. The principal complaint from viewers surrounds the pay-per-view system first used in the UK for the Bruno versus Tyson heavyweight boxing encounter, whereby major sporting attractions will be billed separately, in addition to subscription fees.

Glossary of Terms

1. ITV

Independent Television, the main competition for the BBC. There are several regional companies who use advertising as their principal means of revenue and who are collectively known as TV. Companies are appointed by the IBA - the Independent Broadcasting Authority.


Sporting events of national or world importance and designated by Parliament. Listed events cannot be monopolised by any one television channel: they include the FA Cup Final [football], The World Cup Final [football], the Olympic Games, Wimbledon [tennis], The Derby [horse-racing], and England’s cricket matches.


Replicas of the ‘kits’ – shirts, shorts and socks - worn by clubs, notably in football and rugby. This is now a huge industry, and most teams change their kits every year in a bid to sell more to trend-conscious youngsters. It is a common sight at grounds in Britain to see whole sections of the stadium filled with supporters wearing replica kits, which seem to have replaced the scarf as the most common item of club regalia worn.


Report commissioned by the government and prepared by Lord Justice Taylor in the aftermath of the Hillsborough stadium tragedy in Sheffield in 1989. The report has altered the lives of football spectators by completing changing the atmosphere and surroundings in which they now watch the game. The chief recommendations were for all-seater stadia and for ticket-only entry, with stricter ground capacities for poorer clubs who could not immediately introduce seating areas. This has led to vastly improved conditions at all league grounds, although there are those that say that the atmosphere has suffered because seated fans do not sing. Many fans still stand anyway, despite irate announcements over the loud speakers, but there is far less danger of incident because the numbers entering grounds are strictly regulated.

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