Football, if you’ll allow the metaphor, is much like a bird. Flying free, it was gazed upon by everyone. Now though, it has been caught by a (fat) cat, dragged into the kitchen and left to die – and we’ve all been invited to watch.
The 2012/13 Europa League Final between Benfica and a victorious Chelsea is over. The game was played out in the Amsterdam ArenA, where the fans of both clubs were handed less than half of it’s 48,000 capacity. Allocated just 9,800 tickets each, the remaining 28,400 were reserved for the ‘UEFA Family’ – football associations across Europe, the local organising committee and the now ubiquitous commercial, corporate and media sponsors. As has become the norm at these major football (nay, sporting) events, many of these tickets rapidly found their way onto eBay and other auction sites and were selling for upwards of £2300 (originally costing between £40 and £120). Almost 2000 of those corporate seats remained unsold, leaving empty spaces at a showcase final that could have been bought by genuine fans for realistic prices.
It’s no secret that the commercial revenue football generates is now the driving force behind all of the major decisions – from the location of club tournament finals to where the World Cup will be played. Money talks and those fat cats are always happy to listen. It was arguably the formation of the FA Premier League in 1992 that created the first ripple, one that was eventually felt around the world, moving football into a new era – an era funded by TV moguls with global agendas. We all know what happened. The money kept coming, the Champion’s League was born, the big clubs got bigger and the fat cats got fatter. Things are beginning to change though, and the breaking point could finally have been reached.
As football has become more of a business, the powers that be have trusted the drama and emotion of the game itself to placate the fans. Ask a Liverpool fan how much they paid to get to in the Atatürk Stadium in Istanbul, a Spaniard what their World Cup final ticket cost, or, more recently, how much Wigan fans had to shell out to get to Wembley, and you’ll more than likely get a response of: “Who cares?!!” On the one hand, they’re right, you can’t put a price on seeing your team beat the odds or capture history. However, in a world where belts are being tightened everywhere, can those in charge continue to squeeze all they can out of the people that matter?
As England was where it started, it’s England where the problem is arguably at its worse. Compare the Premier League with the Bundesliga for example, and you would be shocked at the difference – £104 for a Bayern Munich season ticket anyone?! Here, away tickets to Premier League matches often cost upwards of £60, season tickets are so pricey fans must sell their first born to buy them, and many clubs don’t even allow children in without an adult (in the times we live in, this is understandable to a point, but going to football with your mates has been a right of passage for generations) – the reason for this is obviously more likely about getting the guaranteed adult ticket revenue too.
Of course, the thrilling climax of this season has helped the FA, who have recently become associated more with farce than football, to cloud over the growing unrest of escalating prices, the state of the game, the ridiculous managerial merry-go-rounds, the unblanced fines and bans – a list that goes on. The amazing final day of the Championship season, topped off with the incredible last 20 seconds of the Watford v Leicester playoff semi-final, the dramatic way Doncaster won the League 1 title, and of course Wigan’s underdog heroics at Wembley, gave football a much needed shot in the arm – something the FA obviously welcomed. But can they, the Premier League, the Platinis and Blatters of this world continue to ask the fans to pay through the nose whilst they’re also metaphorically punching them in it?
There’s a movement that’s gathering pace amongst the people who pay for the tickets, primarily lead by Liverpool fans, under the banner of Jock Stein’s famous quote: ‘Football Without Fans is Nothing.’ It’s a movement started in protest at the price of away tickets, yet it’s a sentiment that will become more prominent as the game continues to take, take, take. Hopefully, it will also be a movement that, with momentum, could get the fat cats to listen… maybe.