There is an element of truth universally acknowledged about the fact that tickets for football matches are too high, but the extent to which they are too high is still frequently shocking. Liverpool supporters travelling to London for their match against Arsenal at the end of this month will have to pay £62 for entry into The Emirates Stadium (although this should probably be seen within in the context of the eye-wateringly high prices that are charged for matches in London in a general sense), while West Ham United supporters who were planning to travel to Old Trafford for their FA Cup Third Round replay next week might consider doing otherwise once they see that the home side will be charging £45 a ticket for those West Ham supporters that are hardy enough to make a trip north to Manchester on a midweek evening in January, and the added irony to this is that Manchester United’s travelling supporters were only charged £20 for their tickets at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon.
There are few supporters – in particular, but not exclusively, those of Premier League clubs – who don’t have a tale of woe of some description about being forced to pay a price that is unreasonable to the point of extortion for the sometimes dubious pleasure of watching a match live, and we could easily fill a couple of thousand words with examples of this phenomenon, which his become increasingly shameless with every passing year over the last two decades or so. We all know that it’s wrong and that it’s an abuse of the absolute monopoly that football clubs have on the affections of supporters, but voices of dissent on the subject remain relatively sidelined. The golden goose is the extraction of money from the wallets and purses of football supporters hasn’t stopped laying just yet, and all the time that grounds continue to sell out on anything like a regular basis, clubs will continue to act in the way that they have in recent years.
The answer to the question of why they do this is a very familiar one to anybody that has had dealings with an organisation which has a private monopoly on anything. They do it because they can. And they can, because people allow them to. And the people that allow them to are not only the authorities who run the game in this country itself – apparently now solely in the interests of the clubs and television companies, and certainly not in the best interests of supporters – but, increasingly, supporters themselves. For it is us that pay those prices and have allowed clubs to justify this now decades long period of hyper-inflation with the catch-all stock phrase so beloved of those with pound signs in their eyes – ‘market forces,’ though the concept of ‘market forces’ does have a tendency to disappear from view as soon as clubs want anything for themselves.
Of course, the question at this point can only be that of what we can possibly do about it, and there is only one answer that might just make clubs sit up and take any notice whatsoever: to boycott them. When we consider that a large proportion of those present every other week at many clubs is made up of season ticket holders, though, the idea of persuading people to boycott en masse starts to look unworkable. A window of opportunity for those who would seek to draw attention to this sort of thing, however, does open itself up when it comes to away supporters. Away support is smaller and probably easier to mobilise. It is also made up those that get hammered by these prices on a week-in-week-out basis. Supporters make complaints about the cost of ticket prices all the time, but perhaps the asset that might make club owners sit up and take notice more than anything else would be their silence. The noise – or lack thereof – were, say, West Ham United to score at Old Trafford next week in front of no away supporters whatsoever would not just be heard at Old Trafford. It would be heard around on television sets and computers around the world. It would send a more powerful message than any actual words on the subject ever could.
This is mostly wishful thinking, of course. Football supporters are, for the most part (and there is a certain irony to what is to follow which we are fully aware of, which could probably form the basis of a half-decent social psychology dissertation), far too supine to organise themselves into a boycott to prove a point of this nature. Perhaps notions of loyalty only stretch as far as loyalty to the corporate structure that our clubs have become, rather to the thousands – perhaps even millions – of their fellow supporters that have already been priced out of the game. If a big club’s away support could somehow be persuaded to boycott a match en masse, could the support of the team that they were playing be persuaded to not merely use it as an opportunity to sing, “You’re support is fucking shit” over and over again? Unlikely, but we can dream.
For much of the last twenty years, it has felt as if there must be a tipping point with regard to ticket prices, a level at which further increases will become commercially untenable. This hasn’t happened yet, though, and there are few signs that these increases are likely to even slow down in the near future. There remain hundreds of thousands of supporters that can, at this point in time, still afford to buy tickets on a regular basis, but it hardly seems prudent to leave any protest until after almost everybody has been priced out of the game, without even taking into consideration that an attitude of “I’m alright Jack” should surely run counter-intuitively to the very collective essence of what it means to be the supporter of a football club. It certainly seems as if football clubs will continue to charge what they can get away with for as long as we put up with it. And we have been putting up with it for far too long.
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