Football supporters

Football supporters will follow their team anywhere and a great loss to their time, expense and emotional state.

It is their loyalty that makes the football what it is today, because without their enthusiasm there would be no Sky Sports or sky.bet, no multi-million pound TV deals, no Premier League, no state-of-the-art stadiums and no game.

As the saying goes; as a football supporter you can change your girlfriend, your politics, your religion, but you can’t change your favourite football team.

However, that loyalty is constantly exploited by those in charge at the top of the game, especially in England. Loveaflutter, in this blog, is going to take a look at some of the ways football supporters have been undermined in the last 30 years and what can be done to change that process.

In the early 1990s, before the top clubs in England broke away from the Football League to form the Premiership, the cost of going to a game in the top division of English football was affordable for all football supporters.

According to the Guardian in 1990 the cheapest ticket at Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground cost football supporters £3.50. At Liverpool, who were then champions of England and battling away with Arsenal for the league championship, it was £4, while at Highbury the cost was £5, perhaps showing a slight increase in price because of its location.

People will of course argue that lots of things were cheaper in the 1990s, when compared to now, because of inflation. However, according to the Bank of England figures, inflation has seen the price of goods go up by 77.1 per cent in relative terms. That means in today’s money, football supporters should be paying £6.20 for a ticket at Old Trafford; it should be £7.09 at Anfield and £8.86 at Highbury, or the Emirates, Arsenal’s new stadium.

That is not the case though; the cheapest ticket at Old Trafford is £28. It is £45 at Liverpool and £51 at Arsenal. It makes going to football almost impossible for the poorest football supporters.

The trouble is the rebranding of football in the early 1990s, with the creation of the Premier League has made the game – and the English top division in particular – a global brand.

The football supporters, who follow their local club so diligently, are no longer needed as much by the top clubs as they chase markets in Asia, the USA and China.

Hull City chairman Assem Allam has illustrated this point well over the past few years as he attempted to rename the club Hull Tigers to the indignation of football supporters of the East Yorkshire club.

He argued, having got the club promoted to the Premier League in 2013, that Hull City AFC needed a shorter and catchier name to market the club abroad and increase its commercial revenue.

The Egyptian chairman argued that in the Championship, the club relied heavily on gate receipts and football supporters coming to games, but that was not so much the case in the Premier League where TV money accounted for a large share of the club’s revenue. And, with Hull City’s games being shown all across the globe, it opened up market opportunities for them to exploit, but only with a better name.

You don’t go out to the world and say ‘We are Hull City Tigers Association Football Club’. If you do that, expect to fail,” said Allam.

However, the football supporters were not pleased and currently their protests have seen the football team keep the name Hull City, with the backing of the Football Association.

Another example of how the game is going away from the football supporters in this country to the benefit of fans abroad, was the Premier League idea to introduce a 39th game to the season, which would be played abroad.

The idea was first floated back in 2008 at a meeting of the 20 clubs then in the Premier League, with a view to it being introduced for the 2010/11 season. However, the idea drew strong criticisms from football supporters in this country and has not come to fruition yet. However, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said last year that he still favours bringing in the concept at some point.

The successful protests from football supporters, over the renaming of Hull City and the 39th game, show that there is still some power with them in the game, but the increase of ticket prices is something that still needs to be tackled.

Football supporters in March 2015 protested outside the Premier League offices demanding that all clubs in the top division capped away tickets to £20, set aside £1m per season, primarily to subsidise ticket prices, an end of categorising games for away fans and charging different prices depending on which team is visiting.

However, so far they have had little success. As a result the atmosphere in grounds has suffered as working class football supporters are priced out of following their teams in favour of cooperate football supporters, who generally have less interest in the game and the outcome of the match.

It is different in Germany though. Generally, the clubs in the Bundesliga have seen the benefits in keeping tickets low to attract more loyal football supporters and a better atmosphere inside the ground.

In the 2014/15 season Bayern Munich the equivalent of £109.65 for their season ticket, which is cheaper than any of England’s 92 professional clubs.

Asked why he charged so little for tickets, when Bayern Munich were German champions and one of the biggest clubs in Europe, president Uli Hoeness, said: “We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us?”

In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.”

“We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.”

“That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”

He is not wrong. The English game needs to wake up as already some football supporters are flocking to watch matches abroad instead of in their own country as, in some cases, it can be cheaper to fly to Germany, watch a game there and fly back, than it is to travel to a game in England and pay the prices they are charging.