£62 ticket? Welcome to football’s free market
Top Premier League clubs may be ripping off fans on ticket prices, but there’ll always be punters willing to pay.
As a rule of thumb, match officials aren’t much liked by football fans. But John Brooks, the ‘£62 linesman’, has become an overnight terrace hero. The linesman was caught on camera at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium telling Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott to applaud the travelling fans. ‘They paid 62 quid over there, go and see them’, said the official. A significant number of City fans had boycotted the game in protest at having to pay £62 for a ticket – the club was forced to return 900 unsold tickets to Arsenal.
Brooks’ words have been widely applauded by disgruntled fans. So, was this the Rosa Parks moment for the campaign against modern football? And will anything change as a result of the City fans’ boycott? The Independent‘s editor, Simon Kelner, sees the £62 ticket as ‘a parable for the modern world’. Of the City fans’ boycott, he somewhat wishfully suggests: ‘The consumer is more powerful these days, and maybe it’s little acts of protest that will force a much-needed re-balancing of the system and end these insidious acts of exploitation.’ Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has called on fans to ‘switch their allegiance to non-league clubs for at least one weekend’, in protest at extortionate ticket prices. Yes, £62 is a rip-off, but is boycotting a football match really going to change the world? I doubt it.
I won’t bore you with a history lesson here. We all know that standing on the terraces used to be cheap in the good old days (see also: wooden rattles, jumpers-for-goalposts and the maximum wage). But now fans are charged a king’s ransom. We know that the social composition of match-going crowds has changed. Football’s fanbase is still predominantly working class, but these days, the horny-handed sons of toil are rubbing shoulders with prawn sandwich-eating nouveau fans.
At a handful of elite Premier League clubs, where demand for tickets far outstrips stadium capacity, ticket prices have become extremely prohibitive. A 2012 BBC survey of football clubs found that Arsenal topped the rip-off league table. The cheapest season ticket at the Emirates is £985 while the cheapest matchday ticket is £26. You can see why Manchester City fans were irked at being charged £62 – a whopping £22 more than the average price of an away ticket at Arsenal. If you add in rail fare – and a tenner for a pie, a programme and a pint – it all all adds up to a pretty expensive day out. City fans are being fleeced for supporting the champions.
When Crystal Palace were last in the Premiership in the 2004-05 season, I faced a similar dilemma. Should I fork out £50 to visit Stamford Bridge? It wasn’t exactly the FA Cup Final and, in all probability, we were going to get slaughtered. (Sure enough, we lost 4-1.) Much as I crave my fix of football, I wasn’t that desperate to gaze in awe at Chelsea’s superstars. It wasn’t a political act. It wasn’t really a boycott. I simply decided to spend my money on something more worthwhile. I’m entirely sympathetic to Manchester City fans’ anger at ticket prices. But there’s no guarantee that clubs will reduce their prices if fans stayed away; not the big clubs at any rate. They may just calculate that there are plenty of day-trippers, tourists and corporate clients willing to pay premium ticket prices to watch Premiership football. In spite of the boycott, 2,000 City fans were still prepared to fork out £62 for a seat at the Emirates.
Many disenchanted fans and football writers have been enviously ogling the German model. The kraut-bashing of yesteryear has given way to a misty-eyed romanticisation of German football. Most clubs are part-owned by the fans, homegrown stars are nurtured, standing is permitted and ticket prices – except at Bayern Munich – are affordable. What’s not to like? To be honest, it is quite appealing. The only snag is that it’s difficult to turn the clock back in England. The clubs have been sold off. The fans want their clubs to win trophies and buy the world-class players. They would be up in arms if their owners were to pay the relatively modest salaries of their German counterparts – Bayern apart – and lose their star players.
Some want the government to step in and regulate ticket prices. Now I don’t want to be charged silly money at the turnstiles, but no one is forcing me to watch a football match. It’s my choice. Football isn’t an entitlement. I don’t have an inalienable right to watch football any more than I have the right to go to the opera or dine at a Michelin starred restaurant. I’d rather working people fought for better wages so they could afford ‘luxuries’ like football rather than portray themselves as victims of social exclusion. But then, I’m a bit old fashioned like that.
Personally, I’m more bothered about the over-regulation of fan behaviour than the under-regulation of ticket prices. There are laws against standing, singing indecent songs and drinking alcohol in view of the pitch. If you run onto the pitch to celebrate a goal, you could end up with a banning order. If you whip off your clothes and streaked across the pitch you could be placed on the sex offenders’ register. Now that’s taking a liberty. Literally.
Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.