A Liverpool fans concern for OUR football’s future

When we emphasise that Truly Reds is a Manchester United blog for Manchester United fans, it may sound like the bleedin’ obvious but there’s a reason why that basic statement needs to be made on this occasion. Truly Reds has written in the past about the rising costs of watching football and how the game as we know it faces a bleak future. It’s a future which every fan should be worried about whether they support United or any other club which is why the following essay from a Liverpool fan is being featured in this Manchester United blog. Just replace any reference to LFC with United or any other Premier League club and these comments become equally applicable.

When we emphasise that Truly Reds is a Manchester United blog for Manchester United fans, it may sound like the bleedin’ obvious but there’s a reason why that basic statement needs to be made on this occasion. Truly Reds has written in the past about the rising costs of watching football and why the game faces a bleak future. It’s a future which every fan should be worried about whether they support United or any other club which is why the following essay from a Liverpool fan is being featured in this Manchester United blog. Just replace any reference made to LFC with a United or any other Premier League club one and these comments become equally applicable.

Under the title AGAINST MOD£RN FOOTBALL: A Complaint against Premier League Ticket Prices by Liverpool fan Damian Kavanagh it’s an article which appeared on the Liverpool Banter site this week. It’s quite lengthy but Truly Reds strongly urges every football fan to read it. It is not presented specifically for Manchester United fans but for everyone who cares about the future of English football as we know it. This is what Damian had to say…

“I come from the generation of fans who have crossed over from the days of the old Football League with its terraces and poor conditions to today’s media darling that is the Premier League with its modern stadia.

In 1986 I bought my first season ticket. It was an adult ticket for the old standing Kop. It cost me £45. In the preceding 1985/6 season Kop matches cost adults £2.50 each, the Main Stand wing section cost £3.50 and the Kemlyn Road cost £5.00 per match.

This summer I’ve paid the online discount price of £680 for a seat in the place I used to stand. This season sees face value tickets at Anfield now costing up to £45 each for ‘category A’ matches, the same price as the entire cost of my season ticket 25 seasons ago… and we’re not even the dearest team in the League to watch!

Enough is enough, its time to stop this disgraceful exploitation of the fans, in truth it has been time to do something about this for years. It’s the great unsaid about our national sport while the media hype surrounding the game convinces most people about how lucky we are to have “the best league in the world”.

I happen to support Liverpool. If my family was from another place then we’d support somebody else. I am listing my own example knowing that fans of other teams can add their own twist to this, from their own perspective. I do of course definitely blame the Reds for their part in the cost of Anfield tickets, it’s their stadium after all but I can’t blame just my own team for it, more the Premier League as a whole with all of it’s teams taking at least some share of accountability and I’ll explain why

If Liverpool took their own admirable moral stance and kept ticket prices down unilaterally then they’d fall financially and then competitively behind their rivals, such is the greed for success culture that they’re all playing in. The teams are all terrified of each other, worried about losing their place behind a rival in the race for Europe or for a place in the Premier League itself such is the financial difference granted to each league placing and the sponsorship that rewards it. Prices have increased steadily above the rate of inflation year upon year since the inception of the Premier League. Much has changed of course in following our national game since 1986, much for the better it must be said…but also some for the worse.

In common with plenty of my mates I can honestly say I have been there seen it and done it as a fan, so we know what we’re talking about…but where are we ever given a voice on matters affecting the game and more importantly affecting us directly? I’m not saying that we should run the sport from our seats in the stands or from in the alehouse after the match, what I can state as fact though is that we are the experts in supporting the teams and are a vital ingredient for the sport so we should have some sort of say.

We are told periodically how valuable we are, how unique we are. Imagine those great European nights shown on live TV without us playing our full part…they wouldn’t be anywhere near as much of an exciting proposition for the sponsors would they? Let’s cut to the chase and get a couple of excuses for ticket pricing policy out of the way before I go on:

* I know that standing up was cheaper than sitting down and I’ll even assume a price of the most expensive seats from 1986, which was exactly double the cost of standing up… so that would make the equivalent cost of a season ticket for the Kemlyn Road in 1986 as £90

* Lets say that the clubs need to make the same money over the course of a season from the current 19 Premier League matches that they did from the days of the Football League’s 21 matches (very debatable I know, but lets be generous and let them have that so the cost is spread for the season as a whole)

With the above two conditions granted I can calculate what the £90 season ticket in 1986 is worth in today’s prices by putting it against the retail price index… it works out as £206.25. That’s a staggeringly low amount compared to what we pay now. It means at Anfield we’re paying either £680 or £732 this season for a seat that would work out as just less than £11.00 per match in real terms based on 1986 prices!

It almost defies belief doesn’t it? It’s crept up on us year by year but the cost is reaching breaking point now and I can see a reduction in attendances coming very soon. There’s an advert on the radio out at the moment from a channel that that says remember when we could all afford to go to the match? Well it’s now cheaper to watch it with us instead!

I could of course just vote with my feet, say I’m not paying that much and go and do something else but that is not only morally wrong but would entirely miss the point. The whole essence of being a supporter like me and my mates, like those who follow all the other teams with equal love and fervour is that it involves a life’s journey. I take my lad and am “lucky” enough most of the time to get adult/child tickets but there is no guarantee with that and I’m sometimes faced with the cost of two adult tickets! My dad followed the team before us, so did my granddad…and my great granddad. It’s a passion we’ve shared through the good times and bad, through our triumphs and tragedies. It’s our team.

Lord Justice Taylor’s Report on the Hillsborough Disaster made 76 recommendations with the main focus being his recommendation for all seater stadia. The authorities and football clubs in this country jumped at this opportunity, championing the new blueprint for football but there was a deafening silence on what Taylor had added when he stated that in going to all seater stadia, the result should not be increases in ticket prices that takes the game away from its traditional supporters.

He quoted £6 I think as his recommended price for a seat. Taylor was referring to the legions of fans from a century of supporting their teams through thick and (mostly) thin, whose passion for the sport made it what it is today – the national game, the world’s game. He meant the likes of me and my mates, those of us who had survived the very disaster he was reporting on.

I’ve heard slick football executives wax lyrical about the Premier League and all its qualities and to be fair there are many but while they’ll happily quote and highlight the rare good deal for the sake of argument – and not what the vast majority of seats regularly cost – ticket pricing is something they don’t like to be drawn on or talk about.

If there are any excuses about the costs of tickets let’s be clear on a couple of points:

* attendances since 1986 have increased and now there is no standing so that means that all of the punters are paying the same higher level of price for their tickets, in the old days maybe half the ground was paying a lesser price for standing up but now the whole ground all pay what would have been the higher seat price

* sponsorship money has come into the game on a level that could never previously have been imagined in 1986. I don’t think anybody could’ve believed at the time the money that would flood into the sport, it’s a whole world away from where we were back then

* the major factor is the increase in player power and the knock on effect from the Bosman ruling but if the clubs collectively charged less for tickets, they could still afford to attract and make very rich young men out of very good players

This means that if the game was run properly in this country – I suppose I should say if it was run even remotely fairly – then this massive financial cake that we’ve got in football now – gigantic compared to what it was in 1986 – has more than enough to go around for everybody. So guess who gets bigger slices of this cake? Players? Yes. Agents? Yes. Clubs? Yes. The Premier League? Yes. Supporters? No!

I could understand an increase over time above living costs to account for improved facilities and stewarding, more medical staff at clubs as players’ fitness and conditioning improves etc but it would be insulting our intelligence to say that ticket prices need to be at this extortionate level to cover them. If ticket costs had been kept in check the clubs would still run, there would still be a high profile and successful league to enjoy.

Prices are nowhere near as dear in other major European leagues and they still thrive; neither of last season’s Champions League finalists came from England nor did the previous seasons’ winners. Germany has the lowest ticket prices and the highest average attendance of Europe’s five biggest leagues. Last season a seat on Borussia Dortmund’s equivalent to the Kop had an average price of around £13 (directly comparable to 1986 prices) and the cost even includes free rail travel to and from the stadium!

From experience I can say that it’s a fine stadium, it hosted the 2001 UEFA Cup Final. It’s all a question of balance isn’t it? I’m not suggesting that I should turn up next season and instantly expect to pay £30 less for each of my match tickets but surely it can be recognised that we’re paying far too much and it needs sorting out.

If the clubs did cut their cloth smaller regarding players’ wages you never know, we might even have more home grown players in the Premier League as an added benefit. It’s not even as though the massive hike in ticket prices has been filtered down to benefit grassroots football in this country and to help improve the performance of the national team over the long term is it?

The problem is that the various parties like the clubs, players and agents etc all act independently for their own interests which has not been for the good of the game. There are other ills with the status quo like how clubs are overspending to the point where their very future existence could be at risk but this is an argument against Premier League ticket prices so I’ll stick to that here.

I’ve got plenty of friends who I could name who’ve been priced out of going the match during these past 25 seasons. An important part of their lives has been moved away from them. Our loyalty as fans has been taken for granted. Our love for our teams, their traditions, the friendships built up and what our communities have meant to us has been exploited and we’re paying through the nose.

How long can I afford to keep it going? Shouldn’t the average working man be able to afford to go and take his lad to watch their team every other week? Like anything in life, today’s children are the future. There is now a generation of people who’ve been priced out of being supporters because we’re talking about almost a £100 day out for a “dad and lad”.

There’s a whole culture of young fans not going to the matches because of the cost. The Premier League’s average supporter age increases each year. We’ve got kids growing up believing satellite television is what football is all about and people who think a great atmosphere is when noise levels increase down the local pub when the big game is shown in there!

It’s time we got together across the clubs and concentrated on what we have in common, what brings us together and to remember that we all need each other to get the best out of each other. It’s time for some kind of official representation, time the Premier League put on the agenda ticket price reductions. The only thing is, with the way greed has steadily become part of the game over time it’s hard to see a way out of the current state we’re in… but we can’t afford to just shrug our shoulders and give up.

The most likely outcome is that attendances will fall in the future and that clubs will then have to try to do something about the mess that’s left over but by then it might be too late for many supporters who’ve been pushed too far away from the game to ever come back…and just as likely, too late for many clubs who will go bust if they all carry on at this rate! Anybody who loves the game wouldn’t just wait for the bubble to burst, there’s enough interest, passion, money and expertise around to stop the whole thing from imploding in on itself.

The massive challenge of going to all seater stadia was managed, so there can be no excuse for not being able to rectify inflated ticket prices. It’s our game, the supporters’ game, why should we let others ruin it for us? I guarantee you, if for just one week all the supporters from the different clubs could get together and make one meaningful protest then we’d see some swift movement towards fairer prices. Trusting those with influence running the game to consider the fans hasn’t worked for us.

The problem is of course that such is football rivalry, there are fans who’ll say their own club couldn’t be the problem, that they charge less than others, for example “only” £39 per ticket for ‘premium’ matches. Then there are others who’ll say that their team finishes higher than yours and you only get what you pay for. The masses have fallen victim, inch by inch, to a classic case of divide and conquer. A large section of fans have slowly been coaxed without realising it, into accepting an agenda set by greed.

So much so that while you might hear fans complain about their club not having enough money for example to compete with those in the top few places in the Premier League, you’ll never hear them also moan about the plight of the other clubs, who are an equal distance below their own club on the money ladder. It’s time to recognise we’re all getting ripped off and we have got the power to do something about it if only we’d all do it together.

In 1986 the game had many problems and thankfully most of the issues from that time have been cleaned up to a large extent but in doing so, the game has twisted in another direction and lost the plot along the way, hurting its traditional and most reliable and vibrant supporters in the pocket and there’s no justification for it. Lord Justice Taylor would have been angry about today’s ticket prices and I’m livid about it!”

Truly Reds finds very little that can be added to what Kavanagh has to say. The piece drew a number of comments from its readers represented by the following selections.

Alan said:
Cracking article Kav, as you know I couldn’t afford to renew seasie this year, opted instead to pay as you go. The lift in prices this season has finally broke me to the point that I will not go this season at all, a real shame for my eldest son.My first game was against boro in 1981, since then I have followed home, away across Europe, anywhere to see my beloved reds.

If I was to go to our first 2 league games I would have to fork out £98.00 inc booking fees. A couple of weeks ago I watched Telford versus AFC United and spoke with a few Mancs that were instrumental in forming their club. They too were match going lads who loved and still do their team but were sick of today’s modern game. I admire what they have done and aim this season to follow lower league games played on Saturday at 3pm. I hope in time the game comes back to the working class support, but more pressure on the clubs, FA etc is required.

Dave Coakley said:
I understand your frustrations but the modern reality is that your money and the TV money goes on players wages and signing on bonuses. I wonder how much Joe Cole coined, for example, in signing on bonuses….supposedly a “free” transfer??? Liverpool fans demand to be in the frame for the biggest transfers and the best players. This comes at a price.

Everton FC, the club I happen to support, have kept prices at as reasonable a level as they can, with a good spread payment system. They have done this because they are a family club, ran by a benevolent scouser, who does not want to rape the fans. With repsect (and I swear, no malice or mick taking intended!) Liverpool FC had this with David Moores, but this was not good enough for SOME of your fans.

I would not hold your breath on the Chinese or Syrians lowering your prices. They will charge a premium price for a premium stadium (for the good of the city I pray New Anfield is built ASAP). I don’t see anything changing for the better in terms of making the game accessable for ordinary, local, working class fans, until there is a complete collapse of the Premiership/Sky bubble.

Chris P Bacon said:
I’ve just bought two tickets for the Man City away game and they are £48 each but now our ticket-windows have closed, you have to buy them online for which there is an additional £2.50 PER TICKET surcharge! Where’s the rhyme or reason in that – for us? We know where it is for the club as it’s yet another way to fleece the fans.

I have a ticket in front of me for Liverpool V Man Utd in 1983. It was £1.20 which equated to 1/42nd of my weekly wage. Nowadays, I would have to earn £1,890 per week or £98,280 per year to maintain the same differential. It’s reckoned that the Bundesliga in Germany is the best organised best run and most passionate league in Europe. You can buy a season ticket for as low as £50 there in some cases!

Personally, I’d rather see players with commitment and desire to play for a club and win trophies, rather than play for the best financial deal he can get and the day that comes about, can’t come too soon.

Mike Arms said:
I too was a regular on the standing Kop when I paid about £3 for a ticket. I haven’t been to Anfield for a long time to watch a match, only to attend the Hillsborough memorials. The price of a ticket and a short train journey is now the equivalent of a days pay for me. Obviously I can’t afford a ticket nor can I afford to pay Sky an extra £25 a month for live coverage. LFC and the premiership in general is just a business for well off people to watch rich players playing our national game.

It is a crying shame that the kids kicking the ball in the street outside will never be able to afford to go to Anfield or Goodison to watch a game. In the meantime the players will insist on bigger contracts and better bonuses then come on TV stating how important the fans are and how special they are.

There’s little doubt that Damian Kavanagh will be criticised in some quarters for being a dreamer and refusing to accept the realities that football and it’s fans face in 2010 but that does not necessarily make him wrong. There just may be a surprising twist to this depressing outlook however in a prediction that was made nearly a decade ago.

“The day cannot be far” it went “that broadcasting companies will be forced to give away thousands of free tickets just so that the necessary atmosphere can be provided for the millions of viewers watching their football on the box” It’s a scenario that may not be as far fetched as it was deemed to be back then.

Do you agree with the comments made by Damian Kavanagh on behalf of all football fans?

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