I’ve always been the perfect football consumer for those who run our beautiful game. Compliant, faithful, loyal and ripe for exploitation. As ticket prices have risen by up to 1000% in English football over the past couple of decades, I have handed over my money time after time with little more than a quiet grumble along with millions of others, dazzled by the Premier League/Sky “brand”.
But with anything, there is always a tipping point, and that point may be close, if it hasn’t already arrived. When Manchester City recently returned 900 unsold tickets to Arsenal before their match at the Emirates the media took up the story, resulting in widespread debate about the state of the modern game and the treatment of the modern fan. Nothing new had happened at City, there have been boycotts and unsold allocations galore across the nation for as long as I can remember, but at last it appears that fans are beginning to question their blind loyalty.
With this in mind, the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) have launched the Score campaign, or more specifically the push for “twenty’s plenty for away tickets”. A series of events for fans are planned and last night I attended the first one, in a bar in Manchester. Approximately a hundred fans turned up to the event, along with a Sky presenter, cameraman, the odd football365.com writer plus a member of the Farm. An eclectic bunch, with one thing in common. We are all fed up of being ripped off.
The event was led by two FSF representatives, who made a few points before contributions were taken from the crowd. It was pointed out that using just the increase in the next TV deal for the Premier League, clubs could afford clubs to drop every ticket price by £30 and be no worse off. Of course they won’t if not challenged, and this money will go almost exclusively to the players, as it always does. The question was asked why the campaign was only focusing on the away fans, the minority, when the problem affects both sets of fans. The FSF admitted that they are not a huge organisation and cannot try and fix everything, and that this was a starting point, something to focus on for now. Other issues could then follow. Away fans are the focus first because they are the ones that have travelled the length and breadth of the country to be there, have often spent a huge amount to just get to the ground, and are the set of fans that are treated the worst. Promotional ticket offers are not available to away fans, category pricing punishes fans that happen to support a successful team, they often get the worst seats in the ground, yet are vital to the match-day experience, without whom grounds would become little more than libraries a lot of the time.
Judging by the contributions from the floor, the issue is something that the big fan groups have been campaigning against for some time, but the hope from such meetings and the campaign as a whole is that this is not a battle fought along club lines. Getting the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool fans to stand together in the fight for cheaper tickets may well be the biggest battle faced, and such divides were apparent during the meeting, as we heard from the likes of members of the Spirit of Shankly, and what they had already campaigned for over the past few years. But as one Stoke City supporter pointed out, many “smaller” clubs do not have organized fan groups, and this has to be a concerted campaign. After all, as the Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool fans present at the meeting will know all too well, concerted campaigns against owners have been carried out for decades. This campaign is different because it is not about one club, in the same way that Manchester City failing to sell their allocation at Arsenal was not just about Arsenal. The £20 price-cap figure seems rather optimistic, perhaps only picked because it rhymed with plenty, but it is a starting point, and a bargaining tool. If a cap was eventually agreed at £30, then I doubt few would argue.
It seemed most did not believe in the idea of boycotting matches. After all, going to matches under difficult circumstances is often considered a badge of honour for many fans. You will simply never stop some fans going to matches, whatever the price. However, other ideas were put forward instead. The Bundesliga was used as an example whereby German fans refused to make any noise for the first 12 minutes of matches recently to protest at treatment of fans. Also mooted was turning up late to games, or leaving early, an idea I can’t see catching on.
The most popular idea however seemed to be club fans uniting on a demo in London, outside Premier League HQ. The popular sentiment was that the only way to make the Premier League and FA sit up and take notice was to hit them where it hurt – namely in their pockets, or more specifically with agitation against their sponsors. Because if the likes of Barclays are tainted by their association with products they sponsor, then their subsequent threats to cancel such deals would garner action. Sending 900 tickets back to a club that then sells them on to home fans would not.
The meeting ended rather suddenly, with no firm plan of action agreed, which is understandable, as it was more a case of getting the ball rolling. The FSF will update its website and provide on there a focal point for the campaign, a place for rival fans to discuss the issue, and it was great to discuss the matter with such a wide-ranging set of fans last night. We could just sit back and accept our lot, and pay for just the matches we can afford, but football fans are the lifeblood of the biggest “brand” (yuk) in the world, and it’s about time that supporters in this country stood up for ourselves as others have elsewhere. With modern means of communication and the rise of social media, the tools are there for a concerted and successful campaign, when added to the list of contacts the FSF has already built up. It may seem wildly optimistic to make the Premier League (and Football League too for that matter), change their ways when the money continues to roll in, but if fans rebel en masse, they will be forced to take notice.
Written by Howard Hockin
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