I can't say that this story surprised me at all, because as my regular reader will know, I am a keen football fan. I have been attending professional football matches since I was eleven and have held a season ticket at my local club since the 1974-75 season. Indeed, the purchase of that ticket formed part of my Christmas present for a number of years; which brings me to the point of this post.
Those early season tickets cost the princely sum of £10.00. Granted it was well over thirty years ago and was the ‘junior and senior citizen’ price, but it was well within the reach of most people.
My son is now sixteen and his ticket – amongst the cheapest in the country, I might add – cost me £180.00, with my own being considerably more expensive, but still, when compared to those issued by other clubs, very good value.
But over the course of the intervening thirty-three years, I began to notice that fewer and fewer people I had seen attending matches for years and years seemed to be there for the next one, or the next; and all those people had one thing in common: they were all clearly ‘working class’ men.
I’m afraid the reasons for the loss of those fans are easy to pinpoint: the emergence of the Premier League/ Premiership, with it’s ever increasing player salaries and wall-to-wall coverage on Sky Television.
The first of those things saw admission prices rise sharply over the course of a couple of years (to cover at least part of those swelling wages) and significant numbers of people could no longer afford to pay them.
Those rises have continued year after year to the effect that it is now commonplace to be charged £50.00 simply to purchase a ticket and it is frequently much more.
I don’t think you have to be a mathematician to work out that a family man on a take home wage of, say, £300.00 per week would have to think very hard as to whether he could afford to attend the match, particularly when it would be considerably cheaper, not to mention warmer and more comfortable, to simply stroll along to his local (if it hasn’t closed due to the punitive duties imposed by the Chancellor) and watch it on the big screen over a few pints.
I’m afraid that football has been busily alienating its natural constituency – the working class male – for fifteen or twenty years now and those men are now lost to the game as a live spectator sport. They will never come back to it, because they and the game have moved on and because they can no longer afford to go; they get their ‘fix’ on the television instead – often in their own homes now, too, because the price of a Sky subscription is often cheaper than physically attending matches spread across the year.
Of course, with the arrival of oil sheikhs and billionaires from Russia and America, the game arguably no longer needs their money; it has undoubtedly ‘progressed’ from a pie-and-Bovril sport to one populated by what Roy Keane memorably described, or should that be derided, as the prawn sandwich brigade.
Does the change of the game’s character and the loss of those legions of its former fans matter, when nearly eighty thousand people regularly squeeze into Old Trafford, or sixty thousand are shoe-horned into the Emirates?
For me, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
The game can ill afford to lose any fans, particularly those from the working classes who have been its life-blood for over a hundred years. To price such people out of attending is short-termism of the most idiotic kind, because when the money currently swamping the English game dries up, as surely it will, and the arriviste fans disappear with it, who will the game turn to then?