Ticket prices are the latest issue to prompt debate in British football. It’s yet another thing that fans aren’t happy about, but are they finally ready to start working together to oppose aspects of the game they’re not happy with?
It’s safe to say that most football fans think that tickets are getting far too expensive. Arsenal have just hit the headlines after it was reported that Manchester City sent back 900 away tickets that had gone unsold for their match at the Emirates – priced at the, frankly extortionate, rate of £62. Meanwhile, there are reports that Tottenham will charge some Arsenal fans £71 for a ticket to their derby. Going to watch your team just once surely shouldn’t cost the same as a whole month of Sky Sports HD.
Two years ago, the Gunners were also the first to charge over £100 for a regular match ticket. And it’s not just the hugely popular top flight clubs in the wealthy capital that seek to extort their fans; in the Championship Cardiff supporters were charged £42 to see their side take on Leeds at Elland Road last season, well above the norm for the division. Complaints from fans tend to prompt a rather obvious question; ‘well, why don’t they do something about it?’ Is it really that easy?
There are murmurings that British fans are starting to regard German football with envy; if not for the football itself, but for the experience – full stadiums, cheap tickets, large standing sections, good transport links, and perhaps most importantly, the freedom to cradle a cold pint during the match itself. These luxuries make the German terraces seem like a footballing utopia. But there is another aspect to the German game we should also take note of, and that is the way that supporters will unite to protest things that really matter. They do something about it.
For three weekends in a row, a supporter protest against plans for a security crackdown left German grounds silent for the first 12 minutes of matches. This week the protest was called off after fans’ groups were invited for talks with the German Football League. Back in 2010, a price hike of some standing tickets (over the €20 mark – only £17!) led to boycotts by fan movements, even for the huge derby game between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04. Tickets there remain cheap, while in Britain, prices continue to rise relentlessly.
Of course, the biggest difference between German and English football is that in the Bundesliga all but one of the teams are majority owned by fans. In fact, that arrangement is enshrined in league rules which require members to own 51% of the club, a far cry from liberal English ownership. Immediately, this gives the benefit of having a say in how clubs are run. In the Premier League, only Swansea City have a fan representative on the club’s board of directors. But it’s not just the running of individual clubs that presents problems for fans wishing to have a say on ticket prices or standing sections. These issues are relevant to supporters of all teams, so why can’t British fans raise a collective voice like their German counterparts?
A quick browse of the twitter debate gives a clear indication of one problem – fans are just too partisan. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the feeling of terrified excitement on derby day as much as any passionate supporter, but all too often people just toss abuse or rule out complaints of others because of the team they follow. If fans can’t put aside these petty differences on topics that matter to them, then their voice will never be loud enough to rise above all the dissenting tribal shouts.
Secondly, for decades their concerns were simply ignored; football supporters in Britain were treated as the lowest of the low, violent cattle to be herded to and from games. Granted, this attitude was fostered, in part, by hooliganism, but that still doesn’t excuse the behavior of an establishment so obviously keen to ignore (and silence) the voice of a pretty significant section of society. The shocking Hillsborough revelations are proof that for a long time there were no ears willing to hear fans’ protests, even if they had worked together. The tireless efforts and recent successes of Hillsborough campaigners prove that it is always possible to be heard, even in the face of great adversity.
But are fans now starting to put rivalry aside to campaign on the issues that matter? Supporter groups throughout the country are working towards a positive answer to that question. Today it was reported that Manchester United and Liverpool supporters’ trusts are to launch a campaign with the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) and Supporters Direct calling for a cap on away ticket prices. They are seeking the involvement of other fan groups in the top flight to pressure clubs into introducing a cap on away ticket prices.
Supporters Direct and the FSF are spearheading the case for increasing fan consultation and representation; hope for change rests upon their successful collaboration with fans. The former, set up by the UK government, promotes supporter ownership and involvement in clubs, while the latter has come to the fore recently with their campaign for safe standing sections in stadia. It’s a popular goal given that 9 out of 10 fans would like to be able to choose to sit or stand at matches.
Campaigns like these are yet to succeed in Britain, but if they do, supporters will have crossed an important threshold, one that may enable them to bring about more changes they want in the game they hold so dear.