For years now, one of the favourite pastimes of the average football fan has been to compare the modern game to that of days gone by. While pub-talk conversations about the speed of the game, the quality of the pitches, stadiums, players themselves and even haircuts inspire great debate over whether the contemporary state of the sport is preferable to decades ago, one area around which there is little debate is the cost of football. Now, thanks to a startling in-depth survey by BBC Sport, football fans across the country are finally able to provide tangible proof for what we’ve all known for ages: the game is more expensive now than ever.
The essential basis of the survey is as follows: every club in all division across England and Scotland have told the good ol’ BBC a number of statistics about the cost of various aspects of watching their team at home. The survey itself is a quite brilliant idea, and one imagines that only the BBC would be able to pull it off in a climate where it is safe to assume a fair few clubs were reluctant to air their dirty laundry. The figures provided are the price of the cheapest ticket available at any point in the season, the most expensive ticket available, the average price of a pie or other food item in the stadium, the price of a match-day programme and the price of a cup of tea. The results are very interesting, and provide statistics that are eagerly and helpfully dissected on the BBC website.
While the recession angle that The Sun or The Daily Mail spin on the results of the survey may seem a little bit cliché, it does not mean that it isn’t completely true. At a time when so many people struggle for money and household spending power continues to be severely restricted, it is quite shocking to see the amounts that football fans are forced to pay on a weekly basis. The refreshing aspect of the BBC’s analysis is that the total values and the subsequent ‘league tables’ are based on the cheapest possible day spent at each stadium, rather than the sensational values the tabloids bandy around with such relish.
As an Arsenal fan, such ‘sensational values’ are unfortunately an unavoidable bi-weekly way of life. The prices at the Emirates Stadium somewhat unsurprisingly top the league tables, and provide the papers with yet more proof of how Gunners fans are ripped off. The most expensive ticket at Arsenal, for a prime-location seat at a so called ‘Category A’ game (e.g Man United, Chelsea or Spurs), is an incredible £100. This is, of course, the value that is thrown around in newspapers to show how expensive the game has gotten. Obviously, however, this is not reflective of an average game, nor is the figure a million miles away from the £87 at Chelsea or £80 at Tottenham. Regrettably, Arsenal is also the most expensive ground in England to purchase a pie, which will set you back an eye-watering £4.
Arsenal is not, however, the most expensive ‘day out’ in the Premier League. Arsenal’s cheapest ticket costs £35, the same as the cheapest available at Premier League new boys Swansea City and QPR. There is one more expensive ticket available, though, which pushes the club in question to the summit of the ‘Hall of Shame’, a fact that bewilderingly the papers have by and large ignored in the hysteria of that hundred-pound-monstrosity in North London. The club is Liverpool, and the cheapest ticket that can be purchased atany time in the season, even a midweek game at home to Wigan Athletic, is £39. £39! The cheapest ‘day out’ at Anfield, admittedly probably not the amount it would cost a regular visitor to the ground who will rarely buy all three items, is £46.95.
The discrepancy between the most expensive and the cheapest clubs in the Premier League is startling. Liverpool’s total is balanced by an entirely affordable £17.50 at Blackburn, a total brought about because of an incredibly cheap £10 ticket. This places Rovers in a unique group of clubs who offer tickets for a tenner. I feel these deserve special mention in the modern game. So here they are: Blackburn, Watford, Rochdale, Preston North End, Rotherham, Torquay United and Plymouth Argyle.
I, like many others, feel a mix of strange emotions when I see these figures. Of course, it’s fun to pick apart the different values and scoff at some of the numbers involved. However, it is important to remember that these astronomical figures represent genuine problems. Genuine sacrifices. I don’t just mean that people sacrifice going to football matches, because football lovers will always find a way to return to their spiritual homes every Saturday. I mean that often people face choices between forking out for that ticket to see the derby match, or buying a new pair of shoes that they need. Buying a present for a loved one. Football fans should not be punished by their clubs. After all, without these faithful fans the clubs wouldn’t even exist. They wouldn’t have anyone they could rip off. Football clubs should remember who are the most important people in the game, and restore some sanity amongst the soaring prices and the gold-leaf, diamond encrusted pies.