Beautiful game marred by greed
When my brother, my father and I slumped into the threadbare bucket seats on the 17:35 from Huddersfield to Leeds last weekend, we were tired, hungry and had shouted our lungs out. But we were as happy and as we had been since May.
This might seem contradictory, but it’s simple, really. We had just watched the first game of the new football season.
And we’d lost, but we didn’t care.
Contrary to what you might think, the final result isn’t all that matters in a football match. The real reason that millions make the pilgrimage to stadiums up and down the land every week is far more complex than that.
The adrenalin rush of witnessing a goal, and jumping off the concrete in obedient unison with 20,000 other like-minded pilgrims isn’t even half of it. The atmosphere, the hymn-like chants and the camaraderie are the real reasons we come out (yes, even on a rainy Tuesday night in Stoke-on-Trent) every week.
Feeling like you have football in common with every single one of your fellow fans is extremely comforting. Standing on a terrace, cheering the same team, your view on Brexit, your politics, or class, doesn’t matter.
That’s something which is extremely valuable in a world which is shattered like aneggshell by an increasingly divisive and sectarian media.
But there’s a problem. Increasingly, a large number of fans are being priced out of football. Astronomical ticket prices set by greedy owners – even in the lower leagues – make going to a game simply unaffordable.
To see a Premier League match, clubs routinely snatch £60 or £70 from the wallet of every devoted fan. This is unaffordable for the vast majority of people, and it isolates thousands from a powerful source of unity in a splintered country.
You might say “Oh, they need to make a profit so it’s okay,” but for a similar – and often superior – quality of football in Germany or Holland, tickets are significantly cheaper, stadiums full, and no clubs go bankrupt.
And it’s not just the biggest teams that turn bank balances red for the privilege of sitting in their stadiums. Even clubs like Ipswich Town charge well over £30 for an adult away fan. A seat in the Bobby Robson stand for this season is £27.50. And Ipswich can’t even get a chant going. There’s more atmosphere on the moon than at Portman Road.
Some clubs, like my hometown Brentford, have bowed to pleas from supporters and frozen or lowered prices for home and away fans this season. Huddersfield charge just £5 for under-18s, which is the reason their stadium was rocking on Saturday. It’s not impossible.
Football teams must understand the force for good they can be by lowering ticket prices and including as many people as possible in their culture. They wield the power to give a lonely fan solace, comradeship, and rare enjoyment in a cold, angry world.
The chairmen and women need to wake up from their daydreams and realise the opportunity for social cohesion and community benefit they hold in their ticket offices.
-- Will Allsopp is a student at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds