The Campaign for Better Transport and the Football Supporters Association are running a project on football transport, and they could do with your assistance. Here’s Andrew Allen on how Premier League clubs largely fall short on assisting with getting people to and from matches.
Going to a match (as opposed to being at one) can be a brilliant experience. It’s full of the positive bits of football tribalism, anticipation, belonging, shared hope and gallows-humour fatalism. It’s a microcosm of what attracts us to football and it’s better than a thousand Cruyff turns. But practically speaking, getting to the game is also becoming a pain in the neck. It costs a fortune, it takes forever, and fans are treated in ways you wouldn’t put up with in any other part of your life. There is, of course, no reason for it to be like this. Clubs want full grounds and happy fans. Local authorities want to avoid a weekly congestion nightmare. Transport operators would quite like us to use their trains and buses (so long as we behave ourselves).
This is why Campaign for Better Transport are working with the Football Supporters Federation on a joint project to try and get things sorted out. An central part of this is to hear for you – the fans themselves. There is a five minute on-line survey on the CBT website. Here you can tell us about your experiences, highlight anyone you think is doing a good job, and make recommendations for how clubs, transport operators and local authorities should be making everyone’s lives easier. The responses we’ve already received provide food for thought. How you travel to home games in particular is often part of a tradition which you re-enact a dozen times or more each season. Changing such behaviour is not easy, but there is obviously a desire to see clubs take an active role in developing, supporting and promoting football transport. But looking at just the top tier clubs, there is a huge disparity in what clubs believe there role is.
Despite its stadium being less than a mile and half from the railway station, Wigan Athletic scarcely mention transport options other than driving. Even with some of the smallest home gates in the division, the club derive a useful income from the £5 they charge for the pleasure of parking at the DW, A number of other clubs have large car parks, and Wigan are far from being the most expensive. Norwich City charge you £6 to park and others like Swansea City, who can’t offers major parking near the ground content themselves with charging £6 just to park-and-ride. It all hints that fans can be treated as a cash-cow to be milked.
Many new stadia have been built away from town and city centres, making them difficult to reach by means other than the car. Here, local authorities and transport operators have a particular role in working with clubs to make life easier for fans. Reading have done a good job on putting together bus routes to serve the ground, but at £6.50 a pop, it’s hardly a cheap option. Of the more traditional grounds, Aston Villa also offer buses from out of town at £6 with a small reduction for season ticket holders paying for the whole season up front and Liverpool and Everton run a cut-price football bus from train stations closest to the ground.
Even a whiff of good intention can be tokenistic in practice. The West Bromich Albion website, for example, encourages fans to leave the car at home and use the nearby Hawthorns railway station. So far so good, but it then gives very little information on where the line runs to and from, how long it takes, how much it costs or how busy the station gets. Unless you’re already a regular West Midlands rail user, there is nothing here to tempt you out of your car. Chelsea tell you to leave your car at home, and point you to Transport for London for details of getting to the ground. Fulham encourages walking and cycling, but offer maps that are difficult to interpret that you wouldn’t try it unless you already new the route well. But it seems churlish to criticise even this effort when QPR name-check the bus and tube before suggesting you take you chances with on-street parking.
Rightly, there is an assumption that fans who live within walking distance of the ground will travel on foot. But how about making it easy to find your way on foot from the bus of train station? You can pick up pedestrian signs for the Emirates more than three miles away. Stoke City implore fans not to travel between the stadium and the train station by walking down the dual carriageway. Sage advice, but given that it is such an eminently walkable distance, why not go beyond the odd mention of the incinerator access road and put in place a decent signed safe walking route? Manchester City have one from Piccadilly Station, albeit inherited from the ground’s former life as home for the Commonwealth Games. It is a welcome additional option, that others would do well to copy perhaps with the odd steward to help you along the way.
Cycling would seem a natural option for many to get to home games. If you want to take your bike, a number of clubs will offer you space to store it – Arsenal even offer secure cycle facilities with the promise of stewards on hand to help. There is little active encouragement elsewhere – if clubs want more people to cycle they need to look at what is happening in Brighton, for example. But the Premier League isn’t all just box ticking. The thought of football fans on trains apparently makes most operators throw their arms in the air at the thought of beer-sodden ‘football specials’, but it doesn’t have to be that way. A few clubs have struck deals that actively encourage you to travel by train. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich have all worked with train operators so season ticket holders can get reduced priced travel on trains.
There is one team who go significantly further than all of this. As a Sunderland fan it grieves me a little to write it, but the only top flight club with a genuine, well-thought through strategy to help their fans get to and from games is Newcastle United. The centrepiece is the ‘Magpie Mover’ – a ticket available to all season ticket holders which entitles them to matchday travel for the whole season on the Tyne and Wear lightrail, all local bus services and even cut price park and ride. And the price? £10 for the season – £1 more than Manchester United will charge you to park your car for a single home game. And if that wasn’t enough, the Magpies have cycling facilities, promote car sharing and there is even a website specifically tailored to helping fans get to the game without needing to drive.
This exemplary effort (itself only open to season ticket holders) just exposes how far all clubs need to go. Good transport initiative are so thin on the ground that the majority of fans will not even have come across them. They will end up traveling to the game the same way the always have, regardless of whether its the best option for them. The sad truth is that many teams are currently more interested in selling you a club credit card than making it easier to get to the game. Things need to change. Based on the outcomes of our fans survey and other research, we’ll be drawing up league table of the best and worst transport teams. We’ll also be drawing up and promoting recommendations of basic standards for what every club, local authority and transport operator should offer fans to make football transport cheap, easy and convenient. Please help us and support our campaign.
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