If you asked our older generation of fans about football you would find it un-recognisable and, in parts, comical with their tales of olden day heroes who all seemed to be called George, Arthur or Billy. Football has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. A lot more money has been pumped into the game and the gap between fans and their clubs has subsequently widened. In the George, Arthur, Billy days contracts were adhered to without get-out clauses; players didn’t angle for moves away for ridiculous wage increases and loyalty and commitment were still words in The Football Dictionary.
Of course football has improved in many aspects over that time. But the aim of this article is to widen your gaze to a big, unnecessary cost of that improvement. The dis-enfranchising of long-standing loyal fans.
The 1970’s saw the first 1 million pound transfer (Trevor Francis to Nottingham Forest) and since then we have witnessed an ever-growing increase in fees and wages which has escalated over time to the point where drastic and fast-moving increase in transfer fees and player valuations has seen Andy Carroll move clubs for £35 million. Admittedly that is an extreme example but overall players’ fees and wages have risen dramatically recently. Who’d have thought 30 years ago that one day you’d have players on £250k a week and transfer fees reaching into the £40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70 millions?
With the Premier League and Champions League came increased funding for success and league position, and the price for failure (such as relegation or missing out on promotion) became so astronomical. With the vast monetary gains to be made clubs suddenly became targets for mega-rich foreign owners who see football clubs as a business project rather than the community-bringing-together, soulful place it is. They fork out ridiculous transfer fees and wages are paid in order to achieve success, which subsequently escalates ticket prices (through clubs trying to make that money back).
Fans are dis-enfranchised, the ticket prices having being increasing over the last few years at the Emirates season by season only contributing to that. Hard-core, long-serving fans are brushed aside and treated like meaningless numbers. There isn’t enough thought going into the soul of a football club- the fans. Football has improved in certain ways- it being more popular, the TV coverage, the better players we see now, it’s a fascinating league. But there has to be some middle ground. This can’t all come at the expense of fans being priced out of going to games and supporting their beloved team. Teams in Germany have managed to avoid that. And not at the expense of lack of success- look at the recent achievements of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Some clubs, like QPR, have had family sections where tickets are cheaper- that is a good way of partly resolving this issue. Let’s not make it so that hard-working Dads can’t afford to take their kids to football games. Having cheaper seats and sections of the ground designated for this sort of thing would help. Or even better, a reduction in ticket prices full stop.
Craig Love, co-writer of this article, has supported Arsenal since he was 4 years old, that’s 40 years in total and makes clear his sadness at what appears to be happening at his beloved club since Arsenal moved to the Emirates.
“I now look sadly on at fans sitting in the ground every home game as I and many other fans have been priced out of season tickets and new shirts every year, it is simply beyond my monetary budget and it has now become a birthday treat to watch the team I love ply their trade. Sky sports and internet streams ensure I watch most games but it is not the same. It was never this way at Highbury; all the board members were known and definitely closer to the fans. They seemed to understand and acknowledge our tradition and heritage more than the current board, and most importantly we were successful and had some world class players lining up for us. We moved, we were told ‘to compete better with the top clubs’. I did not realise they meant competing for higher share dividends for board members and not trophy success.”
Right this is. The stadium was supposed to put us on a more level playing field with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, whereas it has actually just distanced us more from them. Yes it will benefit us in the future financially, but is it worth it? Is it worth leaving your spiritual home and soul to move to a bigger, more expensive stadium where ticket prices are higher and the club and the fans are more distant? What’s more, where a lot of fans who were able to afford to go and watch their team regularly at Highbury are now priced out of going to do the same at the Emirates Stadium, like Craig?
Fans are a secondary implement at all top clubs these days because owners install boards with a corporate based company ideology, and fans are just seen as a commodity and means of making more money. Boards seem more distanced from their fan base than ever before. Yes they still go through the motion of fans forums and focus groups, but do fans honestly feel they have a say in what goes on? Do fans honestly feel that they can persuade the club to lower ticket prices at all to allow the priced-out fans a way back into the ground? That would be a true test of the club’s priorities- a bit of extra money (to not spend on improving the team by the way) every week or treating the fans better and performing their moral duty to the long serving priced-out supporters who’ve supported the club through thick and thin and helped provide them with the income that has allowed them to progress and eventually move to a new stadium?
This triggers curiosity about which is the best kind of club to be supporting, is it the smaller family club whose fans feel part of and appreciated, or a bigger conglomerate that can isolate their fans but win trophies? I honestly believe Arsenal encompassed both of these things at Highbury and it worked fine. Which points to the stadium move being a negative thing once again.
Football has changed a lot for the good but I can’t help but feel it’s at the expense of a lot of fans and in particular, long-serving poorer class fans who are often the most loyal.
Follow the author on twitter @GoonerTL
Mean Lean's Response
It is an interesting subject, one that all of us feel to some degree I'd imagine. I have been priced out of going regularly to Arsenal matches. I was a season ticket holder at Highbury but since the move the high prices as well as having four lovely children has meant that my finances have had to be prioritised.
While we focus on Arsenal and the changes, we must not lose perspective. These are life changes not just Arsenal or indeed football. House prices, petrol rises, London transport, congestion charges etc have all gone through the roof. But I shall try not to veer off subject and stick to Arsenal.
We were indeed told that we had to move stadium to compete with the big boys, I think that is 100% the truth and a glance at our financial power today and onwards. Many took the clubs words back in the early 2000s as we will compete as soon as we move, that was never going to be the case. Had we remained at Highbury I think we would have been successful for the short term but would have been left behind today, leaving us scratching around trying to get a stadium today like Tottenham, Everton and Liverpool.
It has been difficult because we have had to lower our previous expectations and quality but in 2013 I am glad we made that journey because we are in a stronger position today than we have ever been in off the pitch. The hope is that we will then see results on the pitch.