62 problems but an empty seat aint one

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Empty seats.  They’re the hottest topic in the world of football right now, and for once Latics are coming out on the good side of the equation.  Mainly because it’s not any empty seat that we’re talking about, it’s 900 of them in a particular corner of North London, with an alleged combined value of close to fifty-six grand.  For Arsene Wenger, those empty seats are a necessary evil, the money from the other 59,761 seats is needed to keep in touch with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and their opponents yesterday, Manchester City.

There have been plenty of top articles on the root reasons for these empty seats over the last week or so, ranging from the heartfelt like this one on A Fine Lung, to the socio-political like this from Will Hutton in the Guardian, but the common thread is that most football costs too much for a variety of reasons, and something really should be done about it.  Surely that’s something all like minded football fans can agree on?

You’d reckon, wouldn’t you?  But maybe the key phrase there is “right minded”, because when it comes down it, the modern football fan doesn’t always think the way that you or I would.  Hell there’s a group of people out there who see the crowd as part of the ‘entertainment’ and some more on top who would never notice if the background noise on the TV in the pub was replaced with canned ooohs and ahs and of course recorded boos at half and full time.

I’m assuming (hoping?) that it’s this type of fan that are putting forward arguments against the opinion (no, it’s not an opinion, it’s a bloody fact) that English football is taking the Mick when it comes to its pricing policy.  I doubt that any of them are reading this, but, just in case and more so to get it off my chest, here are some of the common counter arguments and my thoughts on why they are just utter nonsense.

It’s just after Christmas, that’s why they couldn’t afford it

The worse thing about this argument is that it was put forward by the Secretary of the Manchester City Supporters Association, on national radio.  The second worse thing about it is that it presents going to the football in exactly the way that it shouldn’t.  Watching your team shouldn’t be a privilege, it’s a way of participating in and contributing to your club.  Saving up for your season ticket is one thing, but saving up to go to one game is just bloody ridiculous.  It’s not the bloody Opera, but whilst we’re at it, you can get plenty of tickets at the Royal Opera House, and for top West End shows for a damn sight less than £62.

City never take their full allocation in London

This isn’t an argument that the situation is wrong; in fact the only question it raises is why the issue has only made it into the news right now.  Instead of hiding behind this as an excuse, ask yourself why City never take their full allocation.  It’s exactly the same reason that Latics rarely take a full allocation anywhere.

Away fans tend to be drawn from a club’s core support.  Most clubs’ core support come from local people and, working or not, the North-West isn’t exactly renowned for its cash rich locals and it’s hardly doing well economically at the moment and it’s not just the North-West either.  Watch Match of the Day, no, really watch it.  There are empty seats all across the Premier League, lots of them.  Football is just becoming too expensive for people to turn up, week in, week out.

Well City are charging £50-odd quid for us to go the Etihad in a few weeks

This is just about the weakest argument out there.  The issue isn’t a tit-for-tat between clubs, it’s about whether football supporters can actually afford to support their clubs on a regular basis.  £50-odd quid is just as bad as £62 and the price that City charge away fans has nothing to do with the fans.  The City fans might not think a lot about how much their club charge vistors, but if you asked those that didn’t go to Arsenal  or those that went but didn’t go quietly I’m sure they’d agree that it’s just too much.

But it doesn’t matter anymore; football isn’t a working class sport these days.

You’re kidding yourself if you think this is a class thing.  At £62 a ticket (and rising) it’s not just the working class that are being driven out.  But even more so, football is still a massively important part of English society.   Football is one of the few places where people gather on mass as more than a group of individuals, one of the few situations where people come together behind a single cause, it’s one of the few things left that prove we’re capable of uniting.

Politicians know that this is important for society, the Thatcher government did their best to break it up, first by over policing and then by letting market forces rip into what had previously been a closed shop.  Think about it, you watch most of your TV on your own (or with a small group), we watch football as a crowd.  Televisions divide, stadiums bring us together.   In Marxist terms, religion is probably not the opium of the people anymore, football is probably its replacement.

The clubs need the money to pay the players a going rate, we need to keep the league competitive in Europe.

There a three things here.

Firstly, way back when the “does Wigan deserve a Premier League team” nonsense was spewing from with our own club on a regular basis, Paul Jewell claimed that, such were the riches of the Premier League, Latics could afford to play to empty stadiums every week.  Whilst no one would want that, apart from those who can’t hear the TV over the fruit machines anyway, there’s some truth in it.  

TV income forms a massive part of Latics’ overall revenue, the money we generate from supporters is nice to have, but not massively significant in the bigger scheme of things.  This situation gets more true with every TV deal.  TV revenue is again set to jump next season, but you can bet the income from tickets etc will stay just about the same. 

Of course that reflects in the quality of players that we can attract, we’re never going to be able to match top players’ demands, surely?

Probably not, but the second thing here is where exactly do those demands come from.  It’s easy to picture the modern folk devil, the football agent, squirreling away in dark corners, holding clubs to ransom and driving the cost of football up.  But, as Jason Roberts was at pains to point out yesterday, it only takes clubs to say “no” and say it together to turn that around and maybe it would only take the fans to say the same to the clubs for them to think about doing that.

But, so the third point goes, driving down wages would see an exodus of players to other countries where they pay more.  How will our sides cope in Europe then, it’ll be back to the bad old days?

I’m going to be selfish here, I mostly don’t care how our clubs do in Europe.  But surely this argument is wrong anyway.  The real period of
English clubs’ dominance of the European cup was in the 70s and 80s (winning eight out of 10 between 75 -85) not over the last 20 years (four).  Italy have won five in that same period, Germany a couple and Holland have won it too.  All have lower ticket prices than England.  If a country is genuinely dominating right now it’s Spain and guess what, their average ticket price is lower too.

Yeah, but if one lot stops going then others will take their place.

As I said above, take a look at Match of the Day.  This argument only works for certain clubs, on certain games.  As I also said, away crowds tend to be drawn from a core “traditional” support so with a bit of organisation it shouldn’t be too hard to make an impact.  If each club’s fans picked an away game and said “we’re not going to that one” then it should make a noticeable difference.  After all things like this become easier.  If we can all do it as individual clubs, then hell, we can all pick a weekend and do it all together.   Imagine a weekend where no away fans turn up at any game, even if it doesn’t come off then it should still make enough noise and draw enough attention to the problem to be worthwhile.

It wasn’t a protest, those City fans just didn’t turn up, and how can those that went to Arsenal, and paid £62, say anything?

Again, you’re missing the point.  It doesn’t actually matter whether the 900 empty seats at Arsenal were part of an organised campaign or because City couldn’t find 3,000 supporters to buy tickets.  No, it really doesn’t.  This happening has opened up the debate and now we’ve got out foot in the door we need to keep pushing, we need to keep people talking about it.

That means we need to keep going on about it, whether we’re at the game, or not.  Whether we show our hand by keeping our wallets shut, or by waving banners, we’ve got a chance to keep this on the media agenda and we shouldn’t let it drop. 

Is it really that expensive?

If you’re trying this argument, you’re either a millionaire no sense of reality or haven’t been near a football ground in twenty years.  Take a look at this Guardian article, or this graphic from Issue 2 of the excellent STAND Against Modern Football fanzine.   Here at Latics, we’re relatively lucky in that our prices have only gone up about 300% in the last twenty years, but that doesn’t make everything else alright.   Does it?

That’s about it, I think, but if you think I’ve missed any other arguments, then leave a comment and I’ll have a go at those as well.  Not as an expert, but as a football supporter, who believes that the ability to go to the game is something worth standing up for.  If you disagree with that, then you’ve probably just wasted the last fifteen minutes reading this article and you know what, it’s your loss.

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