It was something of craze at the time and it’s revealing how many children are involved. Not only are they allowed to gather together without adult supervision, but they can actually afford to attend international cricket matches. Perhaps the most striking difference is the TV commentary. Now any unofficial public intervention has to be met with po-faced condemnation: ‘Idiots, not real fans, spoiling it for the rest of us etc.’ There has been a policy for some years now of not showing streakers, leading to a kind of hyper-Stalinism where events are airbrushed from the record as they happen. Nothing must be allowed to interrupt the Sky Sports Continuum. This fear of unscripted public behaviour makes a mockery of TV Sport’s appalling sentimentality towards ‘the fans’ and to ‘the passion of the FA Cup/The Ashes etc’.
70s TV seems more relaxed, even prepared to have a chuckle over youthful exuberance. John Motson is surprisingly mild in his criticism of the Scottish fans breaking the goal at Wembley and then switches to explaining it away in terms of the importance of the fixture.
Compare and contrast:
The decline of the pitch invasion is partly put down to the rise of the all-seater stadium, modern security practices and so on. But it must be a change within us as well, with how we think we should behave in crowds. The 70s were a period of assertive working class collective action. Mass picketing at Saltley Gate and Grunwick, the UCS work-in. It was also the time of the folk club circuit, where divisions between audiences and performers were loose.
Now we are ‘alone together’ – not just on the internet but in offline crowds too. Even worse, we self-police crowd behaviour on behalf of TV and advertisers: too many people filming live music instead of dancing; the censoriousness about talking in the cinema. There is whole genre on YouTube of hecklers getting ‘owned’ by comedians. Many hecklers may be unfunny drunks, but there is something creepy about members of the public joining in the pretentious defence of the ‘craft’ of stand up. The nadir is flash mobbing: pointless, self-referential and unthreatening.