The explicit segregation of football fans was something that surprised me when I started watching Football League games last season.
My only previous live football experience before last season had been at Old Trafford and Goodison Park, where I just figured that owing to the large stadiums, the away fans would all want to sit together for familiarity and atmosphere.
I was quite surprised at just how extreme the segregation was when I went to Whaddon Road, Cheltenham for their match against Grimsby on the opening day of this season. Quite literally it was a case of you are that side, we are this side. This is our refreshments bar, this is yours. Obviously it sems from the hooliganism of the 1970s and 1980s, of which I am too young to recall.
Compare that to rugby league, when I’ve often found myself discussing the game with fans of the opposite side (admittedly, I’ve had a few heated moments with other fans, but nothing which we haven’t shook hands about after the game!), and the fact fans can mingle as and where they choose at games. Heck, at certain away grounds, we even flock from one end to another in our hundreds, walking through the main stand!
So it was refreshing to see that Nottingham Forest are launching a pioneering new scheme designed to put to bed the hooligan past of English football, and encouraging mingling and interaction of opposite fans. They are trialling an initiative at their home game with Doncaster where supporters of both clubs will be able to buy family tickets in the T block of the Brian Clough Stand.
It is sad that this is a significant happening in football, but hopefully it proves successful, and is replicated throughout the country, so that fans can once again share their passion and banter, without being scared of trouble erupting around them.