Ranking the 6 Best Atmospheres in the Premier League

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJanuary 8, 2014

Ranking the 6 Best Atmospheres in the Premier League

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    What makes a great atmosphere at a football game? Is it noise? Is it friendliness? Is it the size of the ground?

    All of those things are important, but surely the most crucial thing is the fans. The passion supporters show can usually mask even the worst stadium design or sterile ground, but that is not to say the grounds themselves are not important.

    "You have to achieve a connection between the spectator and the event. The closer that is, the better the atmosphere will be," Rod Sheard of Populous, the architects who built London's Olympic stadium, told the BBC last year.

    So which Premier League grounds succeed in doing that the most? Which ground makes their "12th man" count the most?

    Here are Bleacher Report's six best atmospheres in the Premier League.

     

6. White Hart Lane

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    The idea with many new grounds these days is space and comfort. And that goes for both fans and players.

    That means that the crowd are often some way from the pitch, too far from the action really to feel the noise, to identify with the players.

    That isn't the case with White Hart Lane. It might be an optical illusion, but the fans feel like they are right on top of the players at Tottenham's home ground—perhaps it is something to do with the steep stands or that it's enclosed without being a featureless bowl, but it seems like noise is enclosed there more than in other grounds.

    Perhaps it's the relative size of the place that makes it feel more intimate. The capacity of just over 36,000 is half that of some of their Premier League rivals, so the tight nature of the place certainly improves things in terms of atmosphere.

    Of course, as Andre Villas-Boas found out recently, Spurs fans can turn rather quickly and many think the atmosphere has dipped in recent years, but a trip to some of the more sterile grounds around the country may well persuade those people otherwise.

5. Britannia Stadium

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    If it's noise you want, go to Stoke. And frankly, there aren't too many other reasons to visit Stoke.

    Certainly in their first few years in the Premier League, whether through the novelty of being back in the big time and the understandable inferiority complex that might bring, Stoke fans made what you might call a "hell of a racket."

    Sir Alex Ferguson said, as quoted by the Sabotage Times, of visiting the Britannia: "I love the atmosphere because it makes players play. If you don’t pay attention to the atmosphere at Stoke, then it engulfs you. You must perform to get a result."

    There are some suggestions that Stoke fans have gone soft, that they are not the intimidating hordes of old, and certainly the old cliche of asking whether big stars "can do it on a wet Tuesday night in Stoke" has become something of a punchline.

    But still, when they want to make a noise...boy, can they make a noise.

4. Goodison Park

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    It really shouldn't work, Goodison Park. It's a fairly crumbling old place, with peeling paint and old stands on three sides. There are pillars in the way, blocking the view of a good number of spectators. It's a hodge-podge of a place.

    But it does work. It sounds like quite an "estate agent" thing to say, but what the unkind might describe as old and falling down, a more generous appraisal could describe it as having "character."

    Brendan Rodgers told the official Liverpool website last year: "It's a really hostile environment to go and play in, but our players coped with it brilliantly. It's a real good venue for football and it's a ground that will test your character.”

    Everton have actually been trying to leave Goodison for a while now, with new grounds in Stanley Park and in the city's King's Dock all mooted but rejected for various reasons. While the demands of modern football might mean leaving is inevitable, it will be a sad day when that happens.

3. Anfield

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    Like many of the big grounds in the Premier League, the Anfield crowd can frequently suffer from being quite sterile.

    Visiting fans often complain that it is all too quiet, that the old Kop roar that they were promised is long gone and a very un-football hush reigns.

    The "here we are now, entertain us" attitude that has invaded so many big grounds—most drastically places such as the Nou Camp, which even for the biggest games can resemble the stereotypical library—has taken hold at Anfield much of the time.

    However, on some nights, it all clicks and you remember why it was such a place. The big Champions League evening games have been absent for a few years, but they might be back again in the near future, so experiences such as Olympiakos in 2005, Chelsea in 2007 and even St Etienne in 1977 might be back again.

    Don't take our word for it, though. Here's Ryan Giggs, quoted in the Daily Mail last year, explaining when asked which the most daunting stadium he's played in was:

    I think Anfield. Like I said before, no matter how the teams are doing there is always a great atmosphere.

    You could be playing against an average Liverpool team and it would still be one of the toughest games of the season, just because the crowd drive them on and the tradition between the two clubs.

2. Craven Cottage

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    In some ways, you could say that Craven Cottage, despite its olde-worlde appearance, represents everything about the modern matchday experience.

    While some places are intimidating cauldrons for visiting fans, grounds where fans have to be escorted in by police for fear of inter-fan violence, the Cottage is a pleasant, welcoming place to watch football.

    From the walk along the bank of the Thames from train station to ground, to the "mixed" end where home and away supporters mingle in a way that makes a mockery of the heavy-handed policing and stewarding that characterises so many games these days, it's almost akin to a day out with some football at the end of it rather than a partisan sporting event.

    It's a place you'd be happy to take your children, something that the modern football marketing machine, keen to present the image of a family sport and a form of public entertainment for everyone, wants to portray.

    All of the above might suggest a drab and sanitised experience, but on the contrary, it's an organic and truly pure way to watch the game.

     

1. Selhurst Park

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    There's plenty of what you might call "artificial" atmosphere created at Selhurst Park, from the Palace Crystals (a dancing troupe responsible for assorted scantily-clad viral videos), to Kayla the American bald eagle who flies around the ground before kick-off.

    However, it's the fans who make it.

    Palace fans seem to strike the right balance between being loud and aggressive without being unpleasantly intimidating at the ground they call the "Coliseum," something that might well help the team along but doesn't make a ground a particularly nice place to watch football.

    Most of the noise comes from the Holmesdale Stand, behind the goal to the left as the TV camera looks, and in particular from the bottom left corner of said stand where the loudest and rowdiest fans seem to congregate.

    They call themselves the "Ultras" and manage to express the best of what that word evokes and avoid the worst, most violent elements that the hardcore fans in Italy, Spain and so forth often represent.

    It's not quite so much the volume of noise that they create that's impressive, more its relentlessness, with chanting, shouting and jeering continuing more or less non-stop throughout even the most dire of games.

    It's a rickety old place, with the bare minimum of mod-cons, stuck in a corner of Southeast London that can be a real pain to get to, but Selhurst Park is one of the last places in the Premier League where the crowd make a real noise.

    And, of course, in Glad All Over, they have the best pre-game song in the country.