Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for professional football, as we know it?
Last Sunday saw the final rounds in La Liga and Serie A and with them the end of mainstream European football for the 2000-2001 season. The end of one season, of course, heralds the start of the next and clubs across Europe are in the throes of sending out season ticket applications for the 2001-02 season – many with the promise of European football to look forward to. In most cases there will be a rise in the cost of a season ticket and in many cases that rise will be substantial. In Scotland, for example, newly elected champions, Celtic, have increased their season ticket prices by an average of 35%. This is not an out of the ordinary figure. Over the past 11 years, ticket prices in Britain have risen by an average of 400%. A £4.50 ticket at Tottenham in 1987 now costs £27.00!!! That’s a rise of 415% for a club that has never finished higher than 8th in the premiership. What amazes me is that many fans blindly accept the price hikes as part of supporting THEIR club. Party lines along the like of *”if we want to compete with the best then that is what it costs” are all to easily accepted by the faithful supporter. Fair enough to a point. But where will it end? And who is to blame?
The blame of course lies in many places. For a start, the corporatisation of the game requires that clubs make profits in order to attain a desired return on investment for the major shareholder. Profits not high enough? Okay lets increase the prices for a start. Profits down due to an early European exit? Okay lets bastardise the greatest club competition on the planet. Instead of the Champions Cup we’ll call it a Champions League and make it a round robin.. more games = more money = more profit. Oh and in case we don’t win the league this year we’ll allow 2nd and 3rd and even 4th placed teams in it. We’ll still call it the Champions League though because that makes it sound good.
The players and their agents are of course also to blame. Their greed becomes more impressive by the week. Roy Keane collects around £50,000 per week (PER WEEK!!!!!) and then criticises the very supporters Man Utd have to attract in order to meet his demands. “It’s the away fans I like best, they’re the diehards” he said “The home fans come and eat their prawn sandwiches but haven’t a clue about whats going on on the field”. Meanwhile up in Glasgow, European Golden boot winner Henrik Larsson renegotiates his current contract – which still has 2 years to run – to improve his measly £28,000 per week. His family obviously don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
This whole greed cycle is unsustainable. Eventually we must reach a point where supporters are unable to fork out anymore. What we’ll have then is supporters sitting in their homes or in pubs watching pay-per-view (the latest corporate money spinner). As a result, the actual matches will become devalued as an experience, and the football will be reduced to little more than a TV game show.
Now, there will be those who say that this is nonsense and say “pay them what they want” and “I’m a true United fan * and I’ll pay anything to watch them” and that’s fine that’s your choice. But when the game deteriorates, as it is doing at the moment, to a pathetic theme park act who are you going to blame?