Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Stoke City FC

EVEN Steve Bruce gets it.

Tonight, hundreds of Liverpool fans that religiously travel home and away to watch the team they love up and down the country, across continents and at all hours of all days will stay away when the Reds play Hull at the KC Stadium.

It’s not something they will enjoy doing. Quite the opposite in fact. It’s a habit sewn into the fabric of their lives. It dictates everything they do. Family life is built around it, understanding senior work colleagues are sought.

Some haven’t missed a game for years. Coaches that have eaten up the motorway miles to transport loyal groups of supporters the length and breadth of England season after season will stay parked up and silent when they should be full of bouncing fans singing about Colin Pascoe’s legs. Hundreds of child tickets for the match will go unused to make a stand; to say enough is enough.

Bruce: a Premier League manager, a man who is presumably not short of a few bob. A former Manchester United defender. Steve – “he’s got a big fat head” – Bruce. Steve – “head like a beach ball, he’s got a head like a beach ball” – Bruce. Steve Bruce, Hull City manager, gets it. And yet so many of the people stretching overdrafts to keep up with prices rising higher and higher by the year don’t.

By now the figures about tonight’s game should be in your head. It’s £48 for Liverpool fans but it was £16 for Stoke fans earlier this season. It was £35 for Liverpool fans for the same fixture last season. It’s taking the piss.

Bruce said: “I feel sorry for the supporters of big clubs who have to dig deep every week and I hope when the new TV money comes into play the Premier League can remember football does belong to supporters.

“I know how difficult it is for people here at our club to find the money to bring their two kids to a football match and we have to make sure with all the money washing around we give something back to the fans.

“We have to remember the average man in the street because they are the lifeblood of football and I think if the Premier League set certain rules we would all have to abide by them.”

Cynics will say he was simply asked a question and answered it but the detail suggests something more. He references the Bundesliga and their fan-friendly prices. He points to Serie A and how the bubble burst. A line fed by a club PR this is not.

As I type this, the Hull boycott is the main topic of debate on national radio. Bruce’s interview and Brendan Rodgers’ quotes on the subject are high on the news agenda. Mark Lawrenson has been another unlikely backer of the campaign.

Spirit of Shankly, which has organised the protest in tandem with the Spion Kop 1906 group (committed fans responsible for many of the flags and banners you see on the Kop and more often than not funded from their own pockets) is receiving messages from all over the world and from other groups of organised supporters around Britain.

It’s an effort that should be applauded. And effort that, replicated by other groups lobbying for similar – like The Football Supporters’ Federation and The Black Scarf Movement at Arsenal – has achieved success.

The shoulder shruggers say it’s a business. Say it’s supply and demand. And in the case of Liverpool and other well-supported clubs, say as long as the stadium is full the clubs simply don’t care.

Premier league protest

Then we get the line, “ah, but the club needs this money to compete”. Does it?

Last year’s Deloitte Football Money League, the annual report that ranks football clubs by revenue income, found that: “the amount generated from matchday revenue streams, including ticket and corporate hospitality sales, has fallen to its lowest ever percentage of total revenue.”

And also: “the percentage of revenue that the top 20 clubs generate through more indirect means such as broadcast rights and commercial activities has reached an all-time high.”

And that’s before the record-breaking new TV deal kicks in.

Frankly, the arguments against campaigning for cheaper ticket prices are little more than defeatist bullshit. The naysayers seem increasingly marginalised. As Tony Benn once said: “First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”

Liverpool have frozen season ticket prices next season. They are meeting regularly round a table with fan groups to discuss pricing. We have seen prices for Europa League matches reduced. Prices for kids with season tickets on The Kop (I’d question how many that is, but anyway) have also been reduced.

A pot of cash was set aside by the Premier League to subsidise the price of away tickets by a couple of quid while politicians are now increasingly including issues in football on their agendas. They know it’s a vote winner because so many people are angry. They want change. It’s important. It matters.

You might say they are small wins. But they are wins nevertheless. The fat cats haven’t done that out of the goodness of their hearts. They have done it because fans protesting, fans holding banners, fans staying away; it’s bad PR. It damages ‘the brand’. It’s harmful to ‘the product’.

Football - FA Premier League - Wigan Athletic FC v Bolton Wanderers FC

As Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, said: “We can’t be clearer. Unless the show is a good show, with the best talent and played in decent stadia with full crowds, then it isn’t a show you can sell.”

The Premier League – and our very own football club – sells itself on the basis that crowds are passionate; that the atmospheres are something special, the best even.

A wander around the Liverpool bubble this season will tell you few of a red persuasion believe that to be the case. Venture outside it, again particularly at the bigger clubs, and it’s a similar story. Is the atmosphere at Arsenal, Man United or Man City anything to be proud of these days?

Liverpool FC, and the league, have aggressively marketed the team and the competition the world over. Scudamore described the Premier League, broadcast in 175 countries, as a “great UK export”. It seems their ideal is a transient support; different sets of thousands of supporters making up the numbers every game, gorging itself on overpriced food, drink and souvenirs in the process and wandering around in half-and-half scarves without a care for the culture of support created over decades and passed through the generations like a family heirloom.

Fostering a transient support drawn from all four corners of the world is all well and good but if it’s at the expense of the loyal supporters that make the flags and banners, dream up the songs and pass on the very traditions that make the club and the Kop what it is (or what it was) then where’s the sense in that? What happens long term? An essential component of the very thing you are marketing is being undermined.

In the meantime, a generation is priced out. The BBC’s Price of Football survey last year showed that the average price of cheapest tickets in England has risen at almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011.

I have two children I would love to take to the game. No chance. Mike Nevin’s son is on the verge of being priced out. His open letter to John W Henry predictably went ignored.

You can no longer add your name to the season ticket waiting list at Liverpool. The club is waving goodbye to a loyal following. And the loyal following that remains is asked for season ticket money in May. For more money every year. Carragh Roberts has no chance of regularly going to Anfield anytime soon. So Minecraft and Star Wars are winning the war for his attention. Football, as far as he is concerned, is just something you watch on the television. So far, he has been to more non-league football matches than Liverpool ones.

Despite all this, despite the wins, despite the progress, fans disappear down rival lines with depressingly regularity when the topic gets serious discussion. Either that, or they simply don’t get it. A simple Twitter search will show you that is the case.

Liverpool fans don’t set the prices at Liverpool. Liverpool fans are lobbying for them to be reduced. Yet because our club charges £52 for away fans to watch the game in a corner of the Anfield Road with a letterbox view the argument goes that we can’t moan about prices anywhere else.

It’s bollocks. Spirit of Shankly accurately describes the problem faced by fans as ‘the football cartel’. It’s right on the money. There have been some reciprocal arrangements between clubs to reduce tickets for away supporters but by in large you get the impression that behind closed doors the nod and the wink between clubs is to maintain the ticket status quo.

Surely someone somewhere inside a club can see the value of being first? Imagine Liverpool REDUCED season ticket prices, even by a tenner. Imagine they reduced the rest of the tickets by a fiver. Imagine the goodwill, the positive publicity, the feeling that this club was different from the rest; one that valued its fans and didn’t want to milk them until they walk away from the game they love. Imagine.

It’s within the power of every football fan of every football club to convey that message to the boardroom. Write a letter, send an email, support the protests, tweet about it, sign the petitions, donate to the funds that allow fans to lobby in London and leave an end (potentially) empty at Hull.

Do all or any of that. Join in. The louder the voice the more likely it will be heard. There are 5.14 billion reasons why every club in the Premier League can reduce ticket prices.

“Fans up and down the country want to follow their team at a decent price. With the new TV contract, I see no reason why that can’t be addressed.”

Alan Pardew said that. He gets it. Steve Bruce gets it. Mark Lawrenson gets it. Why don’t you get it?

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Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo

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