ALMOST 12 months ago, José Mourinho celebrated a Chelsea goal by venturing into the stand behind his dugout and hugging his 13-year-old son. The heartwarming moment was captured for posterity but the significance of this tender moment between father and child went way beyond a familial embrace; much more importantly, it was an increasingly rare sighting of an unaccompanied teenager at a Barclays Premier League match.
Obviously, José junior didn’t have to pay to get in to see his dad’s team play and defeat Southampton, he was given a complimentary ticket from Mourinho’s complimentary allocation. For many other kids of a similar age, there are no freebies, just a stark choice between coming up with in excess of £50 for 90 minutes of entertainment or not going to the watch the team that they support. If Mourinho had known this, had he been aware that ticket prices are increasingly beyond the reach of many young fans and have had a gentrification effect on football crowds, it’s hard to imagine that he would have been so outspoken about the lack of atmosphere at Stamford Bridge.
Go back 20 or 30 years to a time when ticket prices were much more affordable and Stamford Bridge was a very different place to visit. Atmospheric, hostile and raw, it occasionally veered towards excess but it was an authentic stadium that belonged, in a non-financial sense, to the community from which it had sprung. For good and bad, the Taylor Report that followed the Hillsborough disaster changed that.
On the plus side, Chelsea, like all other leading clubs, embraced the need to improve safety, but on the negative side, Chelsea, like all other leading clubs, ignored Lord Taylor’s recommendation for the introduction of all-seater stadia to be accompanied by “a price structure which suits the cheapest seats to the pockets of those presently paying to stand” and a great deal of identity has been lost as a result.
The Premier League can point to attendances being at their highest level since 1950 and they can also highlight the fact that on average stadiums are filled to 95 per cent of their capacity. As a business model, there is a compelling argument, albeit potentially a short termist one, that there is no reason for the Premier League’s members to even contemplate radical changes to existing ticketing policies. But the culture of English football has always been about much more than numbers; it is about heritage, identity and atmosphere and the longer the current situation is allowed to prevail the more these qualities will come under threat.
One of the biggest problems is the cumulative effect that high ticket prices, all-seater stadia and the changing demographic of fans attending matches is that young supporters are finding it increasingly difficult to congregate together. In the previous generation and before, teenagers would be able to stand together on a terrace and do what young people out of sight of their parents tend to do, i.e. make plenty of noise. At Anfield and Goodison Park and almost certainly at other grounds at that time, there was a rite of passage that involved youngsters earning their spurs by starting songs. That ensured clubs rarely had to worry about a good atmosphere being generated, it just happened naturally.
Now a situation has been created whereby not only do ticket prices make it prohibitive for young people to go to Premier League matches, seating arrangements make it almost impossible for them to gather in large groups. None of this is Mourinho’s fault but by criticising the symptom rather than the cause he has made himself part of the problem. The reason why Stamford Bridge is not the raucous arena it should be given the brilliance of the team the Chelsea manager has put together is the same as it is at just about every other major stadium in the country – those in charge of clubs place income first, second and last on their list of priorities and issues such as the ongoing decline in atmosphere are being trampled on in the stampede for riches.
This, though, is where Mourinho has an opportunity. Having identified the problem, he could use his stature at Chelsea and beyond to find a solution. The Portuguese may revel in being an anti-hero but this is his chance to become a hero even to those who would usually love to see him fall flat on his face. All he would need to do is speak to the Chelsea Supporters Trust to seek their views about why Stamford Bridge can be so quiet and then take up those concerns, ones that have already been eloquently raised by Tim Rolls, the Trust’s chairman, with his employers.
Should he do so, Mourinho would pass on a message that fans of his club feel there are too many tourists and day trippers at Chelsea home games; that young people are being priced out of supporting their team; that over-zealous stewarding can sometimes make it difficult for supporters to actually support; that identity is being sacrificed at the altar of greed. It is a message that other managers of leading clubs could also pass on to their bosses, particularly if they have the good of the game at heart as they all claim to.
Mourinho could even go a significant stage further. He could recognise that there are countless thousands of teenagers like his own son who desperately want to go to football matches. But their parents do not have reported annual salaries of £8.5 million and they do not have access to complimentary tickets. He could recognise that he is in an almost unique position of influence, as the country’s most powerful manager, and fight on their behalf. He could maybe even acknowledge that the money he takes from football is on such an incredible scale that he would be able to take a seven-figure pay cut on the condition that Chelsea use the proceeds to subsidise tickets for young people.
If Mourinho really wants Stamford Bridge to become more atmospheric then it is in his gift to make that happen. But if all he does is criticise those who pay extortionate ticket prices for not making enough noise then he is complicit in the problem.
First appeared in The Times and published with permission
Correct me if I’m wrong but all I’m reading at the moment is our fans moaning because we haven’t made massive name signings. If we want that then doesn’t it go hand in hand with capitalism? Anfield is like a library on saturdays now with too many people taking photos on their day out instead of singing the team on where as clubs like qpr have the stands actually jumping because of the fans passion for the game and last I checked it’s almost as much to enter that ground as ours. I realise that the article’s about kids not being able to afford entrance but thst just goes back to my first point.
All fair points, well made.
Those of us unlucky enough to only have distant childhood memories of football before all-seater stadia know nothing else than paying a lot of money to watch our team, and for it to be a sometimes solitary event; meet-ups before and after, with the half-time rant/embrace are the matchday experience. There’s often that feeling of detachment amongst fans, especially in the sections that regularly rotate. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve failed to engage with those around me (not through a lack of trying), but it might just be me. I’d argue that the sense of community and belonging is diminishing at the ground, to place the blame squarely at day-trippers & tourists is unfair however. The damage is being done by a far more apathetic group of fans, well that’s how I see it from where I stand. Or sit.
Excellent point re: Mourinho.
I used to pay 75p on the Kop and every other Saturday at least 10 sometimes as many as 20 of us would get the train from the Bache to Liverpool for 18p return and then jump on those green and yellow specials from Lime Street. It wasn’t even that long ago, probably around 87/88 Sadly, whatever compromise is reached, those days are gone forever for school kids.
John Gibbons made a good point in ‘Make us dream’ which I can’t quote as I’m in work but I’ve just done the figures and it was along the lines of Joe cole’s wages for 1 year (for which we hardly saw him) could have got 200,000 kids in the ground for free. It just shows how little it would cost the club to do more for kids.
It pisses me off that I can’t take my son more. He’s reduced to 2 or 3 League Cup / FA cup games per season and 1 or 2 league games. It’s not so much the price but getting 2 seats together. I can’t really see how that’s gonna change in the future. I took him to the Ludogorets game in the standing section of the Kop and it was worth every penny (2 adult tickets though). League Cup and FA Cup games are crap in comparison.
The whole thing has got me disillusioned. On the one hand I find it hard to stay away but on the other I question how much I actually enjoy it. Last season was brilliant but this year I’ve been left questioning whether it’s worth the money. I tell myself I can’t afford a new pair of shoes and have to wear the same ones I bought for my graduation in 2003 yet in one 7 day period last month I spent £135 on tickets for me alone (1 CL, 1LC & 1PL). I also find it’s difficult to see the action at the Anfield Road end so I’m starting to think I’d rather watch it at home. Add to that Mighty Red and I really can’t be arsed with it. My favourite part of the match day experience is in the car going over.
I feel like it’s ‘in me’ to go to the match but it’s changed so much from the values you mention and what I initially liked about going that I’ve entered a stage of re-evaluating why I go. I can see myself becoming a day tripper soon.
All good points but it’s basically down to supply & demand.
Everton let kids in for £5 per game and you can buy half season tickets etc.
Maybe they wouldn’t if they could sell out at full prices and attract lots of tourists & day trippers.
When the capacity at Anfield gets bigger things may get better but paying over £50 to take a 5 year old to a match is not on.
League cup games seem to be the only practical option.
I can’t see it mate. From what I’ve read I think a substantial number of the 10k new seats will be corporate. Don’t quote me on that though. I believe the plan is if the 10k sell out for games then another 5k will be added fairly quickly. That suggests nothing will change for kids. I think the general idea is to increase the revenue per seat not lower it. You’re right though, it’s supply and demand and I’m sure that due to the fact that I don’t go to the souvenir shop, don’t buy programmes and don’t buy food in the ground the club would happily see the back of me.
I understand people being upset about prices but I have to say I have zero sympathy for them. I live in America and Ive been going over once a season for five years now and usually see two games per trip. My flight alone costs more than a season ticket and because I go to so few games because of travel I’m unable to get tickets through the club so I have to buy on the secondary market which means I’m paying around £250-£300 per ticket. Now I understand many long time supporters can’t afford to go anymore and it’s unfortunate but LFC have a worldwide following and there will always be people like myself willing to fly around the world and pay a lot of money for tickets
Sound that, Vincent. As long as you’re OK, yeah?
That’s the American Dream for you!
Vince, I’m on Twitter, next time you’re over get in touch. Don’t be paying £250 / £300. I’ll get some for £200 mate.
Haha. Scouse ingenuity. :-)
Mate, there’s a big difference between a Cestrian and a Scouser. We see ourselves as far superior.
“Cestrian”? Is that like a wooly with o levels?
Haha, you’re not far off mate.
I agree with all the main points, but it reads a bit snide with regard to Mourinho. He was just making a point about the atmosphere straight after a game. That doesn’t make it incumbent on him to take the next step and start a crusade for lower prices. It would be great if he did, but it would be great if Redknapp did, too, or Rodgers or Martinez for that matter.
The players, owners, managers, FA, Premier League, TV, Sponsors etc just don’t care, everyone is making too much money to give a monkeys about the cost of going to the game. As long as the Premiership brand can be sold around the word for billions and they can back it with stats to show market growth in untapped countries, show gates are up across the country there’s no need to rock the boat.
I think the argument for “when’s the bubble going to burst” has been going on for over 20 years, it just isn’t. The US alone with over 300 million people it’s still rated the 4th team sport, a 5th of the audience of what the NFL gets, never mind bloody Nascar. You put that alongside the markets in China, India, South America, the Middle East you know there’s stats to show the Premier League has some length to go before market saturation and that’s even before they get bored with it.
As long as there are people willing to buy half and half scarfs they’ll never be a show of force or mass walk out across the country. The game isn’t designed for the lad anymore it’s designed for Xfactor fans.
And yet over the water the germans have it so right
I’m not so sure. The average age of a top tier season ticket holder has doubled in a couple of decades. There are no armies of 18-30 year olds ready to step in once the 40 year olds are 60 and not going to the game anymore. And whilst gate receipts themselves are not impportant enough for most of the bigger clubs to be concerned about a few emty seats, without full stadiums the product is not as marketable. The fan fervour, the atmosphere, the relationship between teams and fans, the noise, the mayhem are the EPL’s greatest assets. Taken to the ridiculous extreme, Man Utd would still be solvent with crowds of 1,000 given the bulk of their revenue comes from TV and commercial activities; but football played in empty stadiums won’t sell, or at least won’t command the fees it does currently.
It would only take one TV rights round that came in well under budget to leave some clubs staring at player wage bills and other costs that start to engulf them. At this point, the number of people coming through the turnstiles takes on greater significance once more. If that number is heading south, clubs could quickly find themselves in trouble.
I think it’s a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. Is there an historical precedent for an industry that just kept growing and growing without ever facing a massive correction at some point in its evolution? I can’t think of one.
There’s a geat chapter on this in Adrian Tempany’s terrific book: And the Sun Shines Now.
I think the closest comparable I can think of of how the game could end up if left to the current lot would be those ridiculous NFL games at Wembley. Some fans, some expats, some people on a day out and some people with a mild interest in American Football.
Alan Green turned a job down at Sky saying that radio allowed him to say the game was crap, not so at Sky. As long as pundits are like this.
and fans like this
I can generate an atmosphere in the sound studio
Safe standing is the only way the ticket price might drop.The Germans are the model to follow
I grew up hearing stories from my grandfather about his time going to the match and growing up in the city. Being born and raised in Australia I still didn’t fully appreciate his passion for the club. I started going to matches in 2000 and it didn’t take me long to realise what he was on about.
Over the past 14 years of match going i’ve seen more and more of my mates drop off going the match because they can’t afford it any longer. Instead they head to the ground, drink with mates in pubs and stay in the pubs when the game kicks off to watch it on a screen. I guess they still enjoy the match day atmosphere. But it is sad that these guys who all have families now are no longer able to justify taking their kids to the match because they have been priced out of the game by a club who see them as a “retail customer” and not a supporter.
What foreigners need to understand is that you shouldn’t just expect to roll up whenever you feel like it and expect to have tickets handed over to you all because you decided to hop on a plane and fly over from America, Australia or wherever. There is a distinct lack of respect given to local match goers who have grown up with the club and are now being spat on by the club, tour groups and foreigners.
All those who buy buy Thomas Crook packages or buy tickets of tout sites are just feeding the grotesque beast that has taken over the club.