Making a mockery out of those who boycotted Arsenal trip
It’s been the argument that’s refused to go away, but while football supporters’ grievances over the cost of ticket prices is a perennial one, the consistency of such gripes continue to remain intermittent.
Indeed, short of dressing up like superheroes with a cascade of banners down the M6, there’s only so many column inches a story such as this can continue to sustain. But nearly two months on from Manchester City fans’ headline protests at the £62 a pop they all had to pay to see their side beat Arsenal 2-0, the furore and touted backlash amongst supporters, hasn’t quite been in attendance.
In fact, with a Premier League spokesperson recently telling The Guardian that average seat occupancy rates may in fact be rising – with a suggested figure of 95 per cent amounting to a four-year high – then for all the sentiment of injustice that sits amongst fans, their actions appear to be speaking towards the contrary.
With all eyes now set on the Premier League’s final straight, the news agenda’s onus is now locked towards the small matter of relegation, Champions League qualification and the inevitable crowning of Manchester United’s 20th league championship. And perhaps it’s fair to say, with the league season now gearing up into breakneck speed, supporters have a lot more to contemplate now, than perhaps they did just after Christmas.
For now, the debate around ticket prices has subsided, but that break in attention will only be momentary. And when it comes back around, we can all expect to see a series of banners and protests not too dissimilar from what we saw at the Emirates a number of weeks ago.
Yet perhaps it’s been within the relatively recent lull in the debate around ticket prices – not to mention the method of protests supporters are adopting – that lies the greatest explanation as to why they aren’t falling.
Because if supporters really want change and they really want to see ticket prices fall below their current extortionate levels, then the plan of attack is going to have to drastically change.
The Manchester City fans who chose to protest over the amount of money they were being charged by Arsenal in January should be applauded by the greater majority in making a stand against the £62 ‘Category A’ prices they were forced to part with. But the key element of that phrase is that no one was of course ‘forced’ to pay anything. And although the hearts of those who wrote those banners were in the right places, it was only those who stayed away from the game, that were really helping in the fight to keep prices down.
As refreshing as it was to see the television cameras acknowledge (albeit a very momentary amount of coverage) the banners and sheets slamming the cost of ticket prices, what message were those supporters really selling? The powers that be aren’t going to have a problem with you bringing one, ten or a thousand banners of protest if you like. Because the fact is, you’re still paying for the ticket.
With the greatest respect to the men and women who took the time to make those banners that day, while it sent the message that they weren’t particularly happy with proceedings, the fact they attended that day suggests they’ll still always ultimately part with the admission fee. Those who simply refused to part with their money were the ones saying ‘enough is enough’.
And this is the brutal, brutal reality of the situation that faces fans. Everyone seems massively outraged by having to pay so much money to go to watch a game of football, but there’s only real method in which supporters can realistically change it. And the only way that is going to happen is if fans vote with their feet – not with their banners.
Going to see your team play is a supporter’s fundamental right and nobody is going to take that away from them. But if clubs can sell out stadiums charging what they are at the moment, why on earth are they going to lower prices? The common retort seems to be the one about caring for their supporters. It’s also the one that falls into the trap door of nostalgia, ignoring the harsh, business-focused ethos of Premier League clubs as well.
There are no clues for guessing the core principle of that ethos. As good as our clubs are at throwing money down the toilet, they also happen to be begrudgingly brilliant at making money, too.
They don’t care if it’s a tourist, alien or a long-suffering season-ticket holder of 30 years that pays the money to sit on their seat, just as long as they do. The stigma amongst fans appears to be that if you don’t sit on that seat every week, your support for the club is somewhat devalued. But it’s also the same stigma that is in some small way, ensuring ticket prices stay fixed at sky-high levels.
Again, this shouldn’t serve to patronise or condescend supporters that make the decision to part with such incredible amounts of money to follow their team. Call it their right, their duty, their passion or their fuel; however you wish to frame it, it’s their money and no one can judge how they choose to spend it.
Although if supporters want to advocate change, the only way the current model is going to be broken is if attendances begin to fall. And with evidence to suggest seat occupancy may well be as strong now as it ever has been, perhaps we’re not quite as upset with the current raft of ticket prices as some may like to make out.