By STEPHEN MARTIN
PEOPLE flooded in. I couldn’t see where they would all fit. After a brief discussion with my brother about leaving, we decided to stay.
Stood shoulder to shoulder with unknown people, jockeying for a better view, I couldn’t see the point in staying put. But then the game started; excitement, expectation, oohs, aahs and broken conversation with whoever was stood next to me.
A witty comment broke a lull, then a piece of magic on the pitch, a massive cheer and fists punch the air. But the happiness ends abruptly, shattered by an unclaimed beer-soaked fart. It could easily be the Spion Kop of the Eighties. It’s not. This is a backstreet pub in Rainhill, where I’m enjoying watching the latest derby.
So why am I in the pub rather than at Anfield? Two reasons: the cost and the atmosphere.
I don’t go to the match now, but I put my time in on The Kop watching King Kenny et al so I think I’m allowed an opinion. The last game I went to was a Europa League match versus Sparta Prague in 2011. Someone else went through the rigmarole of buying the tickets, which were just £20. And there’s the thing. Twenty quid is a lot different to £52.
Further, you can’t just turn up at the match and legitimately purchase entry at most games these days. To be in with a realistic chance of a ticket you have to be a member. This costs £34.99. Only then do you get the ‘opportunity’ to buy a £52 ticket. That’s a massive stumbling block.
I’m not pleading poverty, I earn an OK salary and have a decent disposable income. But, I’m not stupid. I was brought up on a council estate in Liverpool and I have a respect for money; I know when someone is taking the piss.
About 15 years ago I was working in Manchester and I’d laugh at my Man United-supporting work colleagues, who were going through a similar rigmarole of being fleeced. I thought it was a shameful on the part of their club to squeeze every bit of cash they could out of its own fans, and I took great delight in telling my colleagues that. But I knew it would come to Liverpool.
Now it costs up to £52 for category A games at Anfield. Justify it how you want. The internet is full of ticket price comparisons of similar sporting events and social activities the world over. The bottom line? You are seriously being fleeced if you go to the match.
Then there’s the Anfield atmosphere, which can be hit or miss. If I’m paying those prices (including an added booking fee) I want 8-0 victories. If I don’t get them, perhaps I have the right to abuse any player who isn’t performing. That attitude does not create a good atmosphere.
At my last match, I was sat away from the friends I had gone with. Those around me all knew each other and I was in their mate’s seat. They were season ticket holders and looked pissed off about being there. I tried to imagine what they were like during a league match against one of the lesser teams: sat there demanding to be entertained after handing over £800 or more.
If I’d have been with friends, I would have sung more. I would have enjoyed it more. And the club might still have another match-goer. Cheaper ‘general sale’ tickets coupled with a reduction in the amount of season tickets could mean a better atmosphere. And – from a revenue point of view – might mean more money is spent inside the ground by a different ‘pool’ of matchgoing fans.
As it is, the pub is a great alternative for fans like me. You still have a laugh, you still get some atmosphere (although that can be as hit and miss as the ground depending on day, time, opposition and venue) and you still get out of the house. The competition between many pubs on matchday is getting ever fiercer as more and more fans opt for alehouse over ground. An increasing number offer free food at half time: Scouse, curries, chip butties and so on; a stark contrast from £3-plus for a sausage roll at Anfield.
Most boozers also have an outrageous amount of televisions to watch the game on – often even if you’re sat on the khazi you can watch every minute. Again, it’s a notable difference from some of the obstructed views at Anfield and many other Premier League grounds, many of which are still sold at top price.
Some pubs will put on a band or a quiz after the match and, depending on venue and product, I pay between £3-£3.50 for a pint of lager, including tip. Even if I drink 10 pints, it’s still cheaper than going the match. And there’s a greater range, and quality, of affordable food and beer.
So the view from the pub is pretty good. In fact, it’s excellent and arguably a better ‘matchday experience’ than actually going to the game. It’s economical, convenient, comfortable and also gives you that social aspect now so often lacking at the match.
Liverpool Football Club could tempt me, and fans like me, back to the match if they really thought about it. But do they want to?