Football Club or Superbrand?
The Lost Generation by Rick Simpson aka politico
The following article was printed in the FC United fanzine –Under the Boardwalk in March 2008-I have made minor amendments-but with the growth in importance of Fan owned football clubs in the UK and elsewhere, and the role they have to play in ensuring that football is truly affordable, it is as relevant now as it was 7 years ago –if not more so.
In 1990 a Division One supporter on the UK average wage who wished to follow his or her team on a regular basis would need to spend 3% of their annual income.
By 2008 a Premier league supporter who wished to watch the same number of matches would have to spend a minimum of minimum of 7.5%.
Many have grumbled in the pub or elsewhere for years about the increase in ticket prices and how many fans that grew up watching their favourite teams with their parents have been gradually priced out of reciprocating that same experience with the next generation.
This article will address not only the cold hard facts and numbers, but also the shocking way that an important slice of our shared cultural heritage has been systematically removed from the adolescent experience in many parts of our community and the real danger for society that may result. The lost Generation
The Way we Were
The authors first experience of attending a big football match was in 1972 when I was 10 years old and my weekly spends given to me by my parents was 25p. With that I could catch a bus across South Manchester, run to the ground, pay my 20p into the Stretford End Juniors and get home again. This is no fable from three Yorkshiremen –but a simple fact.
Fast forward to 1990 and approximately 40-50% of First Division ground capacity was standing terraces. This is where many young supporters first experienced top class football, either with their mates or with other members of their family.
Going to a game was a simple and affordable experience which did not require the planning of a military campaign, ordering tickets 2 months in advance etc. The excitement of being in a large crowd, joining in the songs and sharing a sense of belonging stays with many all their lives. To say it was a religious experience may be a step too far, but on a big match day against fierce rivals the raw passion and emotion was both palpable and moving.
The logistics of actually going to the game was simple, turn up at the turnstile pay yourmoney and go in. For those who wanted, a season ticket for seating was available, though waiting lists were sometimes long and a league match ticket book to stand cost about £110.00.
For a committed fan the adult expenses would work out roughly as follows:-
LMTB-Standing Season Ticket-£110.00- Match Day Expenses for 25 games x £10.00 -£250.00 4 away trips x £20.00-£80.00-so the total cost is £440.00-UK average wage was £15k therefore total cost of following a First Division team was approx 3% of the average income.
The Modern Day Match Experience
1992 was a momentous year in English football, following the Taylor report on the tragedy of Hillsborough, terraces were being ripped up and replaced by all seating stadiums, of course as we all know from the Warrington Inquiry it was not terraces that was responsible for the death of 96 Liverpool fans that day –but poor crowd management. But such a loss of life inevitably prompted a greater desire for control from the authorities and in the same year SKY had rewritten the rules concerning the scheduling of football matches.
It was a brave new world and with the nightmare of Sheffield still relatively fresh in every fans mind –no one dare question the direction in which top flight football was travelling.
Interestingly in the Taylor report he specifically stated that there need be little or no increase in ticket prices as a result of all seater stadia.
However some, both inside and outside the game began to envisage a very different future for the game than that famously espoused by giants of the past such as Sir Matt Busby. He would tell his young players “see those guys working in Trafford Park all week in poor jobs on low wages, our job is to give them something to look forward to on a Saturday afternoon”
So things started to change, it started with small scale pre-match corporate hospitality, a good way the clubs would tell the time served fans of the wealthier supporters subsidising the rest of the tickets.
Over the next ten years however the tail truly started to wag the dog-the corporate high spending super consumers became the main target of the clubs. There was nothing they woud’nt do to entice the new middle class fan –high on the success of Euro 96 to the plethora of newly created Executive suites. Ex players were used as part of the packages to woo the corporate market which all of a sudden had embraced football and was trendy once more.
In the meantime SKY went into overdrive with matches taking place on all days and at all hours with never a thought as to how the traditional fans felt about these arrangements or the massive inconvenience of actually attending Monday Night Football.
Merchandising grew exponentially and what used to be ramshackle stores with bare essentials turned into the Magastores we now see at every large club.
Each year witnessed price increases for season ticket holders, and at the more successful clubs the ONLY way to see your team was to possess one.
By 2006 a mere 10-20% of tickets available were at the lowest price range and match day pay at the turnstile became the exception rather than the rule.
Inside the ground heaven help the fan who wanted to get passionately involved in the match and sing a few songs. Unless you are in a singing section then you are likely to be told to shut up and sit down by your fellow consumers or an over zealous steward.
The typical price to be paid in 2008 for the most widely available season ticket at the top 10 clubs was £700.00 So to update the calculation from the 3% expenditure of average wage in 1990-the figures in 2008 are Season Ticket is £700.00 –Match Day expenses of 25 games x £25 = £625.00-plus for just 4 selected away matches –match ticket plus usual expenses now approx. £80.00 =£320.00 giving a total of £1,645-with an average then of £22,000 that is 7.5% or two and half times the 1990 figure.
The Bigger Picture
Some may take the view that football is simply a sporting event, at which two teams compete and spectators pay to watch. If that is the case either you have never been to a match between bitter rivals or you were so far removed from the raw passion in an executive or corporate area that you failed to connect with the true nature of football.
Mankind is by it’s very nature tribalistic and football allows, particularly for adolescent youths, the opportunity to live out this basic instinct without resorting to physical violence.
Most fans will shout, sing and swear during matches and purge themselves to a large extent of this natural pent up aggression, it is vital that there exists this pressure valve release-a place where in 99.9% of cases there is no need to resort to actual violence.
In decades past football was the ideal place for this basic behaviour to exist, everybody was aware of it and prepared for it and if excesses occurred they could be dealt with-much better than people having no outlet for their natural instincts and instead expressing this behaviour randomly where the authorities are not equipped to deal with excess. But with working class youths increasingly priced out it is no surprise that the non football related gang culture has grown exponentially over recent years with dire consequences in many areas.
The support of football has traditionally been a generational event –but with many youths now priced out the Premier league, and unable or unlikely to attend with older family members for financial reasons, many club owners have happily and deliberately cast aside the working class youth and replaced them with day trippers and middle class consumers who are much more likely to have a higher match day budget.
The modern support the Premier League club’s it seems would prefer is affluent, middle class and well behaved, this has always been a part of the support base of all clubs and rightfully so- the difference now is that the clubs seem to want only this demographic as their entire support/customer base.
The few fans on average or below average wage who’s families have watched the same team from generation to generation are obliged to pay 10-15% of their income to watch their team. This many of them will desperately struggle to manage until it becomes a financial impossibility. This who still manage to support their team will provide an atmosphere live or die for their team, but in return be regarded by other supporters and the media much like a goldfish in a bowl to be stared at, a quaint reminder of the past without being truly valued by anyone.
A large swathe of the next generation will not and cannot afford to become the new customers that some of the clubs would like.
For many it is –Game over
In 1980 the average age of a Stretford Ender was below 20 –now it is 42.
Where is the next generation of passionate youthful fans going to come from. They have been priced out of regular match going and if you do not get the habit in your teens or early twenties then, given the vast array of leisure opportunities out there it is unlikely you will start going regularly in later life.
It is this short term dash for profits that risk in the long term killing the goose that laid the golden egg.
It seems that some at Premiership towers would like to turn the competition into a global jamboree with games in Dubai and Melbourne-football runs the risk of losing it heartland and moral compass forever.
Time to Reclaim the Game
Most football clubs are more than 120 years old and have been bought and paid for in reality many times over by their supporters, generation after generation have shared the passion and sense of belonging that being a real fan meant.
In a single generation we are in danger of breaking that bond between club and fan.
It would be simplistic and naïve to think that all club owners in the past were purely altruistic but most realised who their core support was and ensured a long term pricing structure for the benefit of all.
Unless there is a drastic change of course by the largest clubs in England in particular but across Europe in general, the next generation will be lost to match going football.
However thank goodness some fans have already seen the light –the rise of fan owned football which was in it’s infancy in 2008 when this article was originally penned has grown not only in the UK but across Europe and even further afield.
It is hoped that these homes of affordable football, with a strong sense of tradition and a real affinity for the communities in which they are based can offer a true match day experiences for many of the young fans driven away or taken for granted by the footballing elite.
Football should be a fun and life enhancing experience-if football fans can put aside age old rivalries and put pressure on Premiership club owners into re-thinking their long term plans rather than selling our collective souls to the highest bidder, then there is still hope for football.
If not then the fan owned movement must continue to grow and show the football community that fans not businessmen do have what it takes to create both affordable football and success measured in achievements both on and off the field.
Football without REAL fans is nothing