More Premier League Fans Need to Rise Up to Defeat Ticket-Price Greed

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterFebruary 15, 2016

Crystal Palace fans hold up a protest banner during the English FA Cup fifth round soccer match between Crystal Palace and Liverpool at Selhurst Park stadium in London, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Do excuse the nostalgia, but in the late '80s, when I was in my early teens, it was so much easier and cheaper to watch top-flight football in England. 

As late as the morning of a game, you could decide to go, make arrangements with your friends, turn up at the ground and simply buy a ticket on the gate.

If you wanted to get a good vantage point on the terraces, you had to get there a little earlier, but otherwise, it was as simple as that.

As a Manchester United fan growing up in London, this is how I went to see them away many times at Highbury, White Hart Lane, Stamford Bridge and Upton Park.

You queued up at the away end and paid a reasonable £8 to get in to the ground. That’s right, a mere £8 to watch Manchester United play Chelsea or Arsenal.

Now, of course, it is a military operation spanning several months to get a hold of a ticket, involving the obstacles of ballots and expensive memberships.

Chelsea's Spanish midfielder Pedro (C) runs past Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata during the English Premier League football match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge in London on February 7, 2016. / AFP / Ian Kington
IAN KINGTON/Getty Images
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And when you can get hold of a ticket, the price is usually exorbitant.

The steep rise of prices has already largely killed off the teenage fan; my friends and I from nearly 30 years ago would now not be able to go to a game. 

According to a survey in the Daily Mail, 22 per cent of fans at top-flight football games in England in 1983 were under 16, but by 2013 the number had declined to just 9 per cent. The average age of a fan attending games in the Premier League in 2011/12 was 41.

The overriding reason is younger fans find it increasingly difficult to afford to attend games because over the last 25 years the average price of a top-flight ticket has increased, in some instances, by more than 1,000 per cent.

A campaigning group of Liverpool fans, Spirit of Shankly, estimated in 2013 that ticket prices had risen on average by 716 per cent since 1989. At Anfield, it was 1,108 per cent. 

The Bank of England’s inflation rate in that period was 77.1 per cent. According to Spirit of Shankly, that means a £60 season ticket at Anfield in 1989 should have cost £106 three years ago. Instead, Liverpool fans were being asked for £725.

At Arsenal, a fan survey found that in the first season of the Premier League, 1992/93, the average cost of a ticket at Highbury was £10.50. The average cost at the Emirates Stadium was reported to be £45.69.

That sounds almost reasonable when compared to Arsenal’s most expensive matchday ticket of £97 for a single game.

Across the capital at Chelsea, another survey found that three years before the start of the Premier League, the cheapest ticket at Stamford Bridge was just £5. Last season that had risen to £52.  

Liverpool fans hold a banner as they protest against the recently announced rise in ticket prices during the English Premier League football match between Liverpool and Sunderland at Anfield in Liverpool, northwest England, on February 6, 2016. / AFP / LI

The resentment of fans at being ripped off and taken for granted for so long has been threatening to boil over for several years, but it finally happened at Anfield on Feb. 6, when thousands of Liverpool fans staged a momentous walkout.

As reported by the Mirror, Liverpool fans who sit in the main stand at Anfield had been told the cost of their season tickets would rise from £860 to £1,029 and that a matchday ticket in the same stand could cost as high as £77 from next season.

But rather than just grumble about it, they decided to do something, and in the 77th minute of their game against Sunderland, at least a quarter of the crowd got up and walked out.

At that stage, Liverpool were winning 2-0, but with swathes of the stadium now empty and silent, the team slumped to a 2-2 draw, neatly proving how clubs need fans and cannot afford to treat them with such disregard.

When Liverpool fans had hinted they would take this action, the club’s chief executive officer, Ian Ayre, told them, via the Guardian: "Of course everybody would like the tickets to be cheaper, including us, but that’s not an option for us right now."

Strangely enough, four days after witnessing the walkout, it suddenly became an option. To Liverpool’s credit, the club issued an apology, reversed their decision and froze prices for the next two years.

This direct action should be a template for other fans on how to deal with deaf and disinterested boards and show they can no longer be so easily dismissed.

Clubs will merely shrug their shoulders at protests, placards and empty gestures, but they will always take notice of empty seats.

The great shame is this is no act of altruism from Liverpool, but instead they were reluctantly forced to take this decision.

Next season, the Premier League will be flooded with unprecedented riches at the start of its new £8.3 billion television deal, making clubs even less reliant on gate receipts, which continue to decline as a percentage of overall revenue.

In basic terms, as the Mirror's James Whaling reported, the television money means teams will receive at least £100 million for each of the next three seasons if they are not relegated.

The Premier League's clubs had a historic chance to reward the loyalty of fans by cutting ticket prices across the board, but they spurned it.

Bayern Munich's players celebrate after the German first division Bundesliga football match of FC Bayern Munich vs TSG 1899 Hoffenheim in Munich, southern Germany, on January 31, 2016.  / AFP / LUKAS BARTH / RESTRICTIONS: DURING MATCH TIME: DFL RULES TO L
LUKAS BARTH/Getty Images

Even in February, as reported by Charles Sale for the Daily Mail, the Premier League voted against capping away ticket prices at £30. 

Compare this to the attitude of German clubs in the Bundesliga, where you could buy a season ticket at Bayern Munich for just £104 the season they last won the Champions League, 2012/13.

The noble words of former Bayern president Uli Hoeness from 2012, per MailOnline, are more relevant than ever and need to be repeated:

We could charge more than £104. Let's say we charged £300. We'd get £2 million more in income but what's £2 million to us?

In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.

We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody. That's the biggest difference between us and England.

While those words should shame English football, they should also inspire them to see there is another way.

There are so many more streams of revenue available to clubs. Why not give the fans a rest and stop squeezing every last penny out of them?

During the Sunderland game at Anfield, a fan held up a banner daubed with a succinct message: "Don’t price out another generation."

The Premier League must act now to stop this happening, and if they don’t, fans need to start rising up and walking out to make them.

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