Bath City’s Bridge-Building Initiative
Like most non-league football clubs, Bath City of the Blue Square Premier live a hand to mouth existence. Indeed, Bath are in what could easily be described as a uniquely devilish position. Not only are they a semi-professional club playing in a league in which the majority of clubs are now full-time, but the city of Bath itself may also be considered something of a rugby stronghold. Attracting the sort of crowds that would make going full-time – which would make the club more competitive on the pitch – should, therefore, be at the forefront of the minds of the directors of the club.
The directors of Bath City, presumably with this hanging heavily in their minds, therefore came up with a promotion to try and attract a big crowd for their forthcoming match against Grimsby Town, to be played this Saturday. Posters have gone up all over the city advertising the match and the hope is that the club will be able to bring in a crowd of 3,000. It’s a tall order, considering that their average home attendance this season has only been a shade over 1,000 and that the match is on the same day as the final day of the Six Nations rugby tournament. It has been decided by the club, therefore that promotions will be offered to encourage groups that don’t regularly attend Twerton Park to turn out to support the club.
Amongst these groups is Bath’s Polish population, who, along with local students, will only be charged £2.50 admission to Twerton Park (as opposed to the usual £13) for Saturday’s match. This, perhaps inevitably, led to a few grumbles on the Bath City supporters forum I Love Bath City, largely over the matter that normal supporters are being overlooked as part of this particular promotion (this is a common enough complaint when any sort of promotion offering different group reduced admission as part of a promotion). One or two people raised the issue of what the Equality and Human Rights Commission might make of it all, but the club claims to have received an email from them stating that they had no issue with it.
So far, then, so normal, were it not for the fact that the national press has now caught hold of the story with the Daily Mail leading the way. Putting their own, special anti-immigration slant on it, their headline blares, “Kick in the teeth’ for football fans after Polish supporters are offered huge ticket discounts”. The article borrows liberally from what it insinuates is the overwhelming opinion of the supporters of the club through the supporters forum but the truth, as you may have been able to guess, isn’t quite as straightforward as they are implying. Indeed, if anything, the forum itself seems to indicate that the majority of supporters don’t share the Mail’s stance on the subject. Even the photo titled “Empty Stands”, a screen-grab from the club’s YouTube page, shows a terrace bedecked with Newport County flags, which would indicate that this was not part of the ground that Bath’s supporters were in for that match. Ironically, their home match against Newport County see this season saw Twerton Park’s second biggest crowd of the season, 1,551, turn out. If Bath City could attract that sort of crowd as an average, they would be considerably better off than they are now.
There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a lengthy thread on the subject of the idea of the promotion for this match on the Bath supporters’ forum. At the time of writing, it runs to 177 posts, spread over eighteen pages. Approximately eleven of these pages have been written since the idea of reduced ticket prices for the Polish community was announced, and reading them makes for illuminating reading. In around one hundred and ten posts, there are barely a handful of people that raise any reservations about it and there seems to be very little anti-immigrant sentiment coming from anybody posting on the subject. This may be why the Mail’s article switches for its third quote on the subject, without informing its readership, from this forum to the comments section of the Bath Chronicle’s article on the subject. One could almost be led to suspect that there wasn’t enough anti-immigrant coming from the supporters forum, meaning that the writer had to look elsewhere for more hostile quotes on the subject.
The reason behind the reason for this particular promotion was concisely by the club’s Communications and Enterprise manager, Ned Vaught:
Polish fans are normally enthusiastic football supporters but, in general, have not adopted their local teams when moving to the UK. We were already planning a substantial discount for Bath’s student population so I proposed rolling in the outreach to the Polish community as well.
That this is a forward-looking idea is obvious. Bath City are in an unenviable position for the reasons mentioned at the top of this page. If they are to arrest a slow descent towards financial oblivion and remain anything like competitive at the level at which they find themselves, they need to raise their attendances. Far too few non-league football clubs take anything like an imaginative of getting people through their gates that might not ordinarily visit them. It might not be that many people – although nearby Bristol has a reasonably large Polish population – but there have been around 450,000 Polish immigrants arriving in Britain over the last decade or so (60,000 in 2001, compared with an estimated 515,000 in 2010). Surely, therefore, trying to engage with those in the Bath area is worth a try. If as few as a handful of Poles turn up at Twerton Park on Saturday for the first time and end up as supporters of the club, Bath City may benefit financially to a significant extent over the next year, two years or however long they stay with the club for. It seems that the club is aware of this already. As Vaught continues:
It is asking people who have no contact with the club to give us a try. This won’t get us to the 3,000 mark by itself. In fact, it is really the least significant of the initiatives we are pursuing. It is, however, the only one that is as much about doing good for the community as it is filling the ground.
Those that are grumbling about others getting preferential treatment on Saturday might at least choose to take a warm glow from the fact that it is their money that keeps the club alive on a day-to-day basis, to a great extent. There should certainly be a place in the game for clubs to reward the most loyal and it is very seldom that we hear stories of clubs making sacrifices for those that have been turning out in wind and rain for years. This particular initiative, however, is about bringing Bath City FC closer to the community that it shares and about trying to attract greater support to the club. Considering the extent to which in many towns and cities inhabited by non-league football clubs it is difficult to even be able tell that one exists, Bath City should congratulated for this initiative. Maybe it will work in bringing more support. Maybe it won’t. It is difficult to escape the feeling, however, that the club will better off for trying, no matter what the outcome of it turns out to be.
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