One of the great insults that can be hurled at the follower of a football team is that they are a ‘part-time’ supporter, only present for the big occasion and unwilling to put in the hard yards to watch their club in action. Indeed, discernible gaps in an away section are the cause of much merriment and derision for home spectators.
In recent years, however, criticising the size of a travelling fan-base has become less appropriate as inaccessible kick-off times, perpetual transport difficulties, and most pressingly, ticket prices make the expense and the rigour of a day on the road for 90 minutes of action an increasingly unappetising prospect.
While football has no sway over the country’s jammed motorways or unreliable trains, and the sport has sold any right to dictate when matches take place to their all-powerful broadcast partners, the clubs and authorities can challenge the ludicrous escalating cost of a seat in a Premier League ground.
That is only likely to happen once the paying public start to make their dissent at exorbitant prices felt in the most effective fashion. That is to stop paying the ludicrous sums being asked of them. However difficult that may prove for those who balk at the prospect of being absent as their team play, any short-term pain is surely worth the longer term gain.
The issue has been afforded welcome publicity this week with supporters of Manchester City, renowned for their loyal match day attendance, having purchased ‘only’ 2,100 of the 3,000 tickets available for Sunday’s titanic clash at Arsenal. City averaged a home attendance close to 29,000 when they spent a season in the third tier in the late-1990s, and now attract just shy of 47,000 to their Eastlands home. Similarly, the Citizens are famed for filling away ends wherever they go.
As reigning champions, and with the team in hot pursuit of bitter rivals Manchester United at the top of this term’s table, the encounter in North London is of great importance. A charge of £62 to sit in the away end however, has proved a step too far for many who would otherwise have made the pilgrimage to the capital. The tipping point has been growing closer for some time, and in this outrageous price – a remarkable hike of £29.50 in just three years – Arsenal have reached it.
The Gunners are not alone in their greed. Any fan wishing to watch their team’s visit to Stamford Bridge will be asked to part with £59. For the dubious pleasure of a trip to QPR it’s £55. There are better examples set elsewhere, with Wigan Athletic offering entry for some matches at a reasonable £20, and Newcastle United’s cheapest ticket weighing in at a bargain £15.
At a time when Premier League clubs are primed to benefit from domestic and world television rights attracting £5bn for the next three year’s action, there is no excuse for continuing to lumber the fans – without whom the game becomes redundant – with such prohibitive expenses. Further down the football pyramid, where cash is far less readily available, ticket revenue is the lifeblood of clubs. Furthermore, the spectator handing over his coin at the turnstile knows that his contribution is valued, and indeed essential to sustain his team.
While the gargantuan salaries paid to top players, and the unacceptably lavish sums taken out of the game by agents, are public knowledge the typical supporter is left feeling progressively more disenchanted with being asked to stump up the cost of a good meal and a few drinks out to watch their side.
Arsenal can’t say they haven’t been warned. Home matches at the Emirates this campaign have been played to a backdrop of countless empty seats. That sight is becoming less rare in the top-flight, as are miniscule bands of hardy followers constituting an away support. The chief reason for the English Premier League commanding such astronomical figures from TV companies is of course the pulsating nature of a large amount of the football. Also featuring highly though, is the fevered atmosphere inside many grounds – something similarly cited as a reason by many foreign stars for wanting to play in this country.
If the clubs don’t wake up quickly to the insidious effect their pricing policies are having, it is they who will be left counting the cost. Manchester City, thanks to their new found wealth and recent success do not attract a lot of neutral love. Nevertheless, for taking a stand against the £62 ticket their supporters deserve immense credit.
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