Much has been made of the recent failings of various football clubs and their finances. Bank accounts are dwindling and purse strings are tightening. But with everyone so anxious about the state of their club’s debts and outgoings, what about pausing for a moment to think about this country’s die-hard football fans? Figures emerged this week that a damning one-in-five football followers have been forced into debt due to following their favourite team.
Now no-one needs reminding this country has been in recent financial turmoil and that the man in the street has had to be much more careful when it comes to splashing out his well-earned cash. However, for many, football is not something that can just be put on hold or cut down on – it is a way of life, a religion and many fans have been forced into the red rather than staying away from the terraces. According to Virgin Money’s football fans’ inflation index, the cost of being a football fan has risen by 15% in just the past year. Couple that with the impact the recession has had on fans and it is clear to see why so many have had to go beyond their means. Of the 20% of fans in debt, the average being borrowed is £652 with around 4% of fans across the country owing anything from over £1 000 up to £2 500. Figures show it is fans of the so-called bigger clubs that are the worst lenders with all of the big four’s fans debtors averaging at over £1 000.
Damning figures indeed. But what are the clubs doing to help out their loyal and die-hard followers? Well, Manchester United recently insisted on a new policy of season ticket holders having to buy tickets for all FA Cup and Champions League ties. Hardly a helpful initiative to say the least. In fact from an outside point of view it just seems as though United are taking advantage of the fact their season tickets are so in demand that they can lay down conditions on them in order to fill the stadium for less-enticing encounters. Not only is this unfair on the average supporter, it also shows a distinct lack of care or respect on United’s part, seemingly taking advantage of their large fan base.
However, last season saw a drop in Premier League attendances from all clubs in the top-flight but for just four clubs (plus the promoted sides whose attendances obviously rose). That’s 13 clubs suffering from falling attendances in the height of the recession and with most prices for tickets going up beyond inflation each year since the Premier League was established, it is easy to see why. The best supported league is currently the German Bundesliga, who not only witnessed an extraordinary title race involving all of the top five but at a superb rate of just £12 a match. Premier League clubs will argue this is simply not viable with their heady outlay but the altogether outlandish wages on offer to Premier League players at an all time (ridiculous) high, that argument doesn’t quite stand up. In fact it goes a long way to infuriating fans even further, knowing that because certain players are on what many fans earn in a year in just a week, supporters aren’t going to accept that they have to pay more in order to line the pockets of a multi-millionaire footballer.
Admittedly no-one is forcing these fans to go into debt and mandatory conditions like the United one mentioned are all agreed to by the buying customer/fan, but at around £40 (and upwards) to watch a Premier League game at present, you have to wonder if that’s value for money, or if clubs and the league are taking advantage of their fans’ passion and loyalty. When comparing top-flight football to that of other sports, there is a clear debate to be had on pricing and value for money. The recent Twenty20 World Cup in England saw prices of £50 a ticket for a day’s play – two matches lasting over three or so hours each. A centre court ticket at Wimbledon sees spectators pay anything between £50-£100 for a whole day’s play, with pricing depending on the magnitude of the day in question. It begs the question, is £40 (or thereabouts) too much for 90 minutes of football or is it solely the fans themselves choosing to live beyond their financial constraints?
One thing is for sure – as fans look to banks and credit cards in order to continue their non-negotiable following of their side, it makes for sore eyes that the players on show are earning such ludicrous sums of money. The balance is undoubtedly unjust, but don’t expect a change anytime soon.