The cost of football to the modern day fan
In any age of austerity and monetarist policies, where the dark shadow of economic depression looms high and the glib consequences of a recession inevitably play their evil hands, cuts, and more for the purpose of our article, COST becomes a big agenda to consider. So, additionally, when you consider COST, you often find things are costing way too much, are way beyond your means, and that you need to make cuts. The usual, and regrettable place to do that, is in the respect of any luxuries you enjoy, and Football, under its present day guise, must most definitely be described as a luxury, where cost is most definitely a big agenda, and perhaps is arguably beyond the realms of the average person’s purse strings, which for me, is a ghastly perversion of all the foundations of the beautiful game.
This is not just a problem for Everton Football Club, or its supporters alone, it’s a problem all supporters face in unison.
Indeed, the problem, including rising costs and wages, or mass corporate investment certainly isn’t a new one either. You will often hear in the distance somebody complaining how much a rich Arabian so and so has spent on a club, or how a player has asked and probably been given an extortionate wage rise compared to the average working person, or how It cost £45 to watch Manchester United play away at Fulham.
As I said, these trends, and problems, are not new. They have been longstanding unsolved conundrums for the Football authorities, which they have often found themselves juxtaposed between helpless and clueless to figure out.
Indeed, just under 30 years ago (1982), The Football Association, extremely worried about the trend of (like at the moment) stagnate or decreasing attendances (Which had slipped from 1979-80’s 24.6million to 1982’s 20m), chose to send out its Special Reports Tsar, Sir Norman Chester, to go out and investigate the problem, in the form of compiling a paper that would eventually be formulated as ‘The 1983 Report Of The Committee Enquiry Into Structure And Finance’
Sir Norman set out to work to resolve amongst many things, the receipt of gate money by home/away clubs, and to gather a solution to the rising total insolvency rate (37m) of all the member clubs in the football league had in terms of debt, worrying by the days standards, so its unnerving that you’ll probably find yourself rather unmoved when I tell you Manchester United’s insolvency rate alone amounts to a whopping 716 Million ((1)>See 1st Reference).
Along the way, Chester plundered on a few problems that where getting rather a bit hot to handle and beyond the requested scope of his report. As the investigation went further on he began to come to the understanding that football had begun to become riddled with inflated prices (2)(1982 had saw a 20% rise in general prices compared to that of 1979) Big Wages – of which, there had already been much media hype about, having seen a 45% rise during the period 1979-81, with players like Kevin Keegan receiving a 3k a week wage at Newcastle and Alan Simonsen’s seemingly colossal 1.5k a week wages at league stalwarts Charlton.
However, digging further and further, Chester could see that it wasn’t just with regard to insolvency, club overspending, or indeed what percentage of the gate receipts each club was entitled to after a game, nor even general pricing or wages, but the social and economical behavior of the supporters themselves which had resulted in as much a bigger consequence for them as the authorities themselves. In short, he found spectators where being priced out, and that meant the clubs and The Football League was losing out as well.
Cursory chats with Club Chairmen and Executives found that it wasn’t just the quality of football being played at the time that the supporters found hard to stomach…it was the COST as well “We Feel That The Product On The Field Is Just As Exciting Now, But Spectators Find It Very Difficult To Find The Sufficient Cash To Attend Games” (4)
He then, rather more strikingly, to his dismay, began to uncover the stark reality that football wasn’t just squeezing and becoming costly and beyond the financial realms of ordinary supporters, but of the owners, the average businessman and any potential investors too!
Martin Spencer, a member of Chester’s Investigation team, and football accountant expert, spared no missed chance of an opportunity to declare that the cost of running a football club was becoming bigger and bigger, way beyond that of the majority of ‘Local Owners…More That Of International Owners’ (5). Indeed, in hindsight, he even managed to go one better, with his rather prophetic but accurate assertion that the old days of family or locally owned clubs by passionate dynasties would soon come to an end, and ‘Soon People Similar To Robert Maxwell Will Be Investing In A Football Club’ (6) . It is an ironic testament to Spencer that just under a year later, Robert Maxwell, Super Entrepreneur, went out and bought lowly Oxford United, and especially today when we have become very much accustomed to Russian & Arab Oligarchs buying British Clubs for huge sums of money just as easily and similarly as they’d acquire some new Toy from Hamleys.
Chester’s report was soon finished and eventually landed on The Football Associations desk in 1983. But it did little to slow rapid and charging financial decline, with Middlesbrough virtually going out of business and having to reform in 1986, and Halifax Town consenting to be owned and administered by the local council until 1987!
The report was soon forgotten about and regretfully the decline and inequalities in pricing, and percentage sectors of society being able to afford the opportunity to watch the game live, worsened extensively.
By 1997, it was now not only difficult to afford a ticket, but to have the money and means to be eligible to apply for one as well! At Arsenal it was £20 simply in itself to become a registered supporter, with Highbury – which housed 38,000 thousand people at the time (disadvantaged by the recent change to all seater stadia), only putting up a maximum of 14,000 tickets up for general sale for home games to a membership that had 20,000 members and either couldn’t afford a season ticket or where put off by its 5 year waiting list. They had simply been priced out by the increase in admittance price due to the new policy of seating, and finding it more difficult to actually get access to the stadium due the decreased capacity prior to The Taylor Report which ordered all UK stadiums to have provisions for seating. Gone where the days of pay on the day, and in came the ‘fashion’ for owning expensive season tickets to forgo that angst of applying for a ticket each and every time. Eventually, this became a prevalent and popular issue, reaching as far as the Conservative Minister for Sports & Culture, David Mellor (7), who was compelled to set up a ‘Task Force’ in 1997 to try and recommend any changes that would be beneficial to all concerned. It was under Mellor’s stewardship, that the task force collecting substantial evidence showing many traditional fans where being excluded by price or ticketing methods. It has to be said then, that it was unfortunate therefore, that Mellor’s task force had no statutory powers and seemed fearful of inconveniencing its Football League members in any way, which resulted in few real, serious recommendations being radical enough to alleviate the problem.
Thus, the trend for more and more fans to become priced out of regular attendance continue to spiral out of control and the wide dichotomy of people that used to attend had continue to narrow.
Take our friends from the north, Newcastle United and its fans, as a case study in question, and allow me to relay some accounts, from a few select group of the Newcastle fan base, courtesy of Andrew Wards’s ‘Football Nation’, that managed to put footballs affordability to the average man under the microscope when interviewed way back in 1998…..