Show Hide image

Ticket prices about to tumble? You’re having a laugh!

"Six per cent, you're having a laugh/Six per cent, you're having a laugh."

He'd been singing it for a couple of minutes when he turned to me and said: "What does that song mean, Daddy?"

I put my hand on his shoulder and, adopting what I imagine will be my facts of life voice, explained how the eye-watering cost of an Arsenal season ticket would be even more reassuringly expensive next year. But I told him not to worry about that now - he should just enjoy the limp, title-capitulating, end-of-season stuff in front of him.

As I was explaining, or failing to explain, the economic realities of English football to a seven-year-old, three thoughts popped into my head. First,
why 6 per cent? The actual increase is more like 6.5 per cent, and while it's true that “six point five" wouldn't scan, surely you should round up,
not down, not just for the chant's greater impact but for statistical accuracy, too.

Second, why had the Piranhas' ska-inflected "Tom Hark" been debased once more ("Champions League, you're having a laugh", "Premier League, you're having a laugh" and so on, ad infinitum), when there's plenty of wit and wisdom elsewhere on the terraces?A personal favourite, while we're at it, is sung to the tune of "That's Amore", the song Dean Martin made famous, and goes like this: "When the ball hits your head,/And you're stuck in row Z,/That's Zamora." Brilliantly cruel, but unfortunately outdated, as the barn door-missing Bobby Zamora of Spurs and West Ham has become the free-scoring, assist-giving Zamora of Fulham and England.

Third, and this was probably the least banal of the thoughts washing around inside me, I wondered whether there was a threshold beyond which supporters would refuse to pay to watch football. When, in other words, will the fans say no?

Not any time soon, is the likely answer. Even as many at the Emirates Stadium that Sunday afternoon were showing their displeasure (finally giving the bird to the Pravda-style announcement which claimed that attendance was 60,000-plus, when the truth was as plain as the red-and-white upturned seats in front of everyone's eyes), others were defiant. "Shut up, you muppets. If you don't want to pay, don't come." It is football's equivalent of that classic refrain against multiculturalism: "If you don't like it here, f*** off back to your own country."

Market forces

But the logic is hard to dispute: most leading clubs have a waiting list for season tickets and most are happy to sell seats match by match to the "football tourist" who takes in a Premier League game as part of a city break (and who spends more at the club shop than the regular fan for good measure). You don't want to go? Don't worry, there's someone ready to take your place.

There may be evidence of dwindling gates lower down the leagues, but the elite needn't worry just yet. Football is tribal - fans don't shop around for the cheapest team in town.

As with tuition fees, so with football: usual market forces don't apply. Will universities choose to undercut the competition, or charge at or near £9,000 a year? I think David Willetts now knows the answer to that one. Will football fans pay the equivalent of a month's gross salary, or more, for a season ticket? Enough will.

During the 1986/87 season Oxford United, then a First Division club, began to charge away fans £5 to stand at the Manor Ground - all shallow terraces, mesh fencing and poor sightlines - when £3 was the norm elsewhere. At the time, it felt like just another dastardly act by Robert Maxwell, then owner of the club. Now it feels like a bargain.

Next season, fans of the newly promoted QPR will be asked to pay up to £72 a seat. This is a club that outraged its supporters just three years ago by putting up the price of some tickets to £40 and £50 when there wasn't even the promise (excuse?) of Premier League football. Now the cost of some season tickets is up by 40 per cent. As the Piranhas didn't sing: you're having a laugh. l

Jon Bernstein, former deputy editor of New Statesman, is a digital strategist and editor. He tweets @Jon_Bernstein. 

This article first appeared in the 27 June 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The food issue