Arsenal Times
Sweet Caroline My Arsenal The Changing Crowd
By Boris Mellor
June 5 2018

The playing of Sweet Caroline at the Emirates, and the near insurrection (according to an hysterical and hypocritical press) at West Ham, and the increase in the apathy of Football crowds reminds me of a US book on the subject. The book is broad based, but bear with me it does have relevance to modern sport and especially football.

The book is a history of the US based on the actions of the crowd. A brief review cannot do justice to the vast array of issues raised: anti-colonial riots, strikes and great industrial battles, racist lynch mobs, riots outside banks, passive crowds at football games and in shopping malls.

Al Sandine is clearly on the side of the crowd as a progressive force and he explains that spontaneity alone cannot define its behaviour. He refuses to define the crowd as a blind, easily led, mindless force - even when it pursues a reactionary cause. Public lynching was not a spontaneous outburst of ugliness, but premeditated and organised theatre, often sanctioned by figures of local power. The progressive crowd also sets its agenda in advance with networks and propaganda.

There was a time when crowd action had the sympathy of some of the local elite. Rioting was justified if the elite had not fulfilled its obligations to the lower orders, whether as an issue of prices fore essentials, taxation or justice. But the rules of engagement changed and the issue of taxation led to revolution.

The rise of bourgeois democracy saw the crowd's influence diminish. Change was supposed to come through the ballot box, and the destruction of property was no longer acceptable to local or national elites. They were united in their opposition to the crowd.

The vote benefited rich more than poor. Thus the crowd appeared on a new battlefield of strikes and demonstrations. US workers initiated the tradition of the May Day demonstration but, portrayed as anti-American, the tradition was brutally suppressed. Civil rights activists faced similar suppression but with a different outcome.

The role of the crowd had changed - it was now rare for it to negotiate directly as it had in the 18th century. Nonetheless the crowd still has its victories - the poll tax riot abolished the poll tax and ended Thatcher's reign.

Sweet Caroline

But as Sandine notes Football Crowds (although he means American Football) have also to some extent been controlled. The atmosphere is controlled by the owners by the use of shouty commentators and music whenever a goal or try is scored. Pop music has seen the crowd silenced or neutered before it can even get going. The crowd cannot form links and test its voice above the row of London Calling (A great number), or the playing of Sweet Caroline at the Arsenal, half the crowd joins in,more than usually do for most of the traditional songs and chants, but what has the song got to do with Arsenal memories, history or tradition. Its brain numbing pap, its mind control and the idea started in America, that’s why this book is worth reading here in the UK. The same song is sang to the Prosecco soaked (on the inside that is) crowds watching T20s at Lords. All the hooray Henrys, and Henriettas, join in. Is it worse than an Elvis song that was the flagship song for a now defunct pick and mix store? Probably not, but it’s just as sentimental and meaningless in context.

Sandine believes that to an extent the crowd has been tamed, although he is not denying that crowds can, and may, play a role in creating change. He argues that the credit crunch, and the layoffs on the way, could thin the crowds of consumer society and see those absentees from the unruly (but never mindless) mob join with those like-minded to change society. And perhaps in a way the crowd at Arsenal played a role in getting a change of manager, by clearly making its discontents known in a way that could not be controlled by the men in suits.

The Taming of the American Crowd

Al Sandine, Monthly Review Press, £14.95