“£5bn and what do we get? £64 a ticket” huffed a banner at the Emirates, held pointedly across the divide between the home fans and the travelling Liverpool support.
The message was clear. We’ve had enough. We want our game back. The message was clear last season too in a number of protests at various clubs and the headquarters of both The Premier League and FA. Also, in 2013, the message was clear. It was equally clear in 2012, 2011, 2010 and, sod it, you see where this is going.
Every season the supporters’ trusts, the self-styled “voices of grassroots football”, warn that spiralling player wages, set against high ticket prices, risk tearing the heart out of the game.
They’ll be playing to half empty stadia, they warn. There’ll be no atmosphere and then what will the TV people say, they ask, darkly. But the stadia aren’t empty are they? That banner at Arsenal had one thing in common with similar banners displayed at almost all grounds year after year after year. It was held up in a packed stand.
“Look! We’ve all paid £64 a go to be here! It’s outrageous and unacceptable!” said the stand full of people who’d accepted it. Again. It’s a bit like that famous Robin Williams stand-up routine about unarmed British police officers. “Stop! Or…I shall say ‘Stop!’ again!”
Fans of top Premier League clubs moan about the rip-off, then buy the tickets, proving that they’re not too expensive for their market after all. And for the one in a thousand who really do decide not to renew their seats, there are 50 waiting to take it.
But for most it’s like a crap pub fight, it never quite happens. “Come on then! Yeah? Yeah? Come on then!” et cetera ad infinitum.
Supporters’ trusts are like the Communist Party of Great Britain. It lost the argument comprehensively a generation ago and now it’s just some dreamers meeting each month in a pub somewhere, arguing over the fine detail of a manifesto nobody will ever read and consoling one another with thoughts of a footballing Utopia of cheap tickets, flared jeans and scarves tied around waists.
And like NATO in this analogy, club chairmen smile condescendingly and say all the right things. Just like Capitalism and the US Air Force, they know they’ve long since won.
The clue is in the name, you see. Premier League. Premier, as in top. Premier as in premium. With each passing year the gulf between the Premier League and the rest of football grows. With each giant new TV deal, with each batch of incoming world superstars, with each of Steven Fletcher’s Lamborghinis, the exclusive, hyped to death, platinum-coated Premier League becomes more untouchable.
Fans are right that it’s morally obnoxious to charge working people £64 a ticket to watch men paid £150,000 a week. But they’re not right in the way they think they are.
They think it’s outrageous because “their club” is doing this to them. “Their club” should appreciate that the fans are as big a part of it as the players and the directors. “Their club” has no right to price them out.
But it does, because it’s not “their club”. That no longer exists. Look in the annual report and accounts. See the bit that says “PLC”?
This is the price you pay for that heady day back in the early 90s when your club floated on the London Stock Exchange and a big wave of cash came in. You talked about who to buy. You talked about Europe. But you never stopped to think that once your club became a listed company, it stopped being your club. It’s a company now, and it belongs to its shareholders; same as Shell, same as Sainsbury’s.
And like any other company, yours can be (and almost certainly has been) taken over by a bid managed by investment bankers and City brokers, just like an oil company or a telecoms provider. Just like that.
Which is why the faintly funny local businessmen with the mullets you laughed at when they floated it back in the day were then able to flog it to that foreign fella surrounded by muscular lads in dark glasses.
A few people were far-sighted enough to see this coming. Well done them. They moaned and they warned, and everyone told them to shut up. But they were right. They were the ones who tried to point out the link between you complaining about ticket prices on Saturday and discussing which £25m-rated midfielder to buy on Monday. They’re probably down at FC United of Manchester or Dulwich Hamlet of a weekend.
The great Blues legend Robert Johnson is said to have sold his soul to the Devil at a deserted Mississippi crossroads in return for his talent. Yours went for a No9 with an unpronounceable surname and a Croatian wing back who did well in Euro 96.
How’s that worked out for you?
You can follow James Clark on Twitter (@motoclark)
Is James right to piss on everyone’s fireworks? Are we frantically trying to bolt the gate while the horse gallops over the horizon? Or does the AMF movement have a chance? Write to us: [email protected]