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28 February 2016

Football needs fans – so go on, make tickets free

Players say a good home crowd can earn them ten points a season. So why do ticket prices rise and rise?

By Hunter Davies

There is one quick and easy and happy way to resolve all these protests about the endless increase in ticket prices. The Prem is getting £8bn for the next three years, yet it keeps on charging the fans more. Of course it is appalling, totally unacceptable, and we must do the right thing and we will look into it – and all the other mouthings that the football authorities spout just as frequently and insincerely as a government minister.

At one time, the clubs relied on gate money to exist: there was no other source of income. Back in the 1870s, the first football programmes – cards listing the teams – were given out free to VIPs. Then they decided to shove adverts on the back. That was it. Football had become commercial.

When the Prem was first created, gate money was still the biggest single source of income. Not any longer. I could look up the figures, if I did not have so much to do (I am packing), but today I would think that less than one-tenth of every Prem club’s income comes from gate money.

They don’t really need it – so go on, make tickets free. You’d have to apply, prove you are a long-term, loyal supporter. There might be a residential rule, as you get with desirable schools. Giles Coren has recently gone on an epic rant because his local primary wouldn’t take his precious child. You have to be born and still living in the school playground – though the problem could be Giles Coren.

I don’t expect Spurs to draw their lines quite as fiercely, but when the cull comes, I could be forced to follow Arsenal. They are marginally nearer.

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Football needs fans, always has done. Players say that a big, shouty, roaring, supporting home crowd earns them about ten points a season. We are even more vital than in the past. Prem matches are now being broadcast practically every day, and all round the world, so they desperately need us. Otherwise, there is no atmosphere. They could be playing in a swimming pool.

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In Spain, unless it is either of the big two clubs, you often think for a moment there is no one there. Or that they’ve changed the venue to Brunton Park, Carlisle. I take that back. The CUFC fans are fab. Barrow, they’re a bit quiet at Barrow home games today.

In fact, if we contribute so much to the success of football, why are we not being paid ? Yet we get nothing. Just get charged a fortune. You can spend £3,000 a season following a Prem team these days. You’d have thought all repro shirts would be free. After all, we craven fans are walking around as advertising boards for some dodgy betting company or funny financial firm.

Purists might say yes but free things are not valued. You only appreciate what you have to pay for. Those stupid handbags and idiotic watches that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds are desirable because of the price. High prices keep out the riff-raff, make the goods exclusive: make entry to football free and people would not turn up. I don’t believe it. Football is in the blood.

Alas, we are slavish followers, content every year to accept ticket price increases, moaning and groaning but still filling the stadiums. We are cynically being taken advantage of. We know it and accept it. For the moment, anyway.

Letting us in free wouldn’t only be excellent public relations but would show good foresight. Very soon, there will be no Prem. The world’s top league will be in China. China is already spending as much on star players as many of our Prem teams. Very soon it will attract all the best players.

We in UK will then be forced to have Chinese satellite subs if we want to watch the top teams. The Prem will be less desirable. We might even give up watching it. Which will serve those bastards right for taking us for granted.

Right, now I must finish packing. I have waited till after my wife’s funeral to get away. Back in three weeks.

At the funeral, all the undertakers looked like Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes. Lush white hair, sparkling shirts, immaculate black suits. Their future is assured, once the Prem collapses and no one watches any more. 

This article appears in the 24 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Boris Backlash