This piece was originally published on my Beyond the Ninety column on Voom Football
Times are tough. The world continues to reel from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s and more and more people are struggling to make ends meet. As the government’s austerity measures really start to bite people are laid off, unemployment rises and jobs are harder than ever to come by. Rents are increasingly expensive, tuition fees deter potential students from entering higher education and most of us have not had a pay rise in years. In short, for most of us money is in short supply.
Not that you would know that from looking at the Premier League. Billionaires and consortiums spent the transfer window throwing cash around like ticker tape. Some £835 million was spent by clubs in England’s top flight, more than ever before, and that includes the British record transfer fee Manchester United paid out for the services of Angel de Maria. Such is the level of over-inflated price tags that Southampton could sign Shane Long for a reported £12 million and still consider it a good piece of business.
So where does all this money come from? Despite the fact that rich owners, sponsorship deals and television rights contribute billions to the game, clubs are still milking fans dry. It comes as no surprise that supporters are becoming increasingly outraged. A joint statement from Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Leicester City, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace Supporter Trusts asked a simple question: “A record spend but what about supporters?” They continued:
“Supporters of Premier League clubs are meant to be grateful for the £200,000 set aside at each club for 'Away Fan's Initiatives' whilst a record £835m was spent on transfer fees alone this summer, never mind agent fees and wages. That’s a total of 0.48% of what was spent on another millionaire. It's just 0.15% of the £2.7bn revenue clubs made in 2012/13 or 0.13% of the predicted £3.2bn in 2013/14. Worst still it is just 0.077% of the £5.218bn in a TV deal.
“We could go on. But the facts are clear. More money than ever before is in football yet it still goes in through one bank account and out to top up others people's already bulging bank balances. Supporters’ wallets remain empty. Supporters still find themselves getting nothing back. There is no 'Best Transfer Fee' trophy. No money back when a player is sold on. No real pride in new and increased sponsorship deals. Not even a token 1%.”
Season ticket prices in the Premier League for 2014/15 have increased by between 6.5% and 7% since last year. And it doesn’t stop there. If you’re a Chelsea fan, for example, you can expect to pay more than £55 for a replica shirt and more than £40 for the least expensive match day ticket. Even if you have one hundred quid to blow on your Stamford Bridge match day experience you’ve barely got enough change to buy a pie and a cup of Bovril at half time.
Things are so bad that even football players and pundits have waded into the debate. During the summer Gary Lineker, the mild-mannered Match of the Day presenter, tweeted, “There is absolutely no need for Premier league clubs to charge what they do given TV revenues these days. It's pure avarice!”
Everton striker Steven Naismith has gone one better, putting his money where his mouth is. The Scottish international has bought a stack of tickets to Everton’s home games and is distributing them amongst the unemployed of Liverpool. Naismith, who grew up in Glasgow surrounded by poverty, said, "I am aware that, through no fault of their own, there are many unemployed in Liverpool trying hard to find a job who may not be able to afford a ticket. I thought this might be a small gesture to help those in that situation to enjoy a day out at one of our league matches. Hopefully it can bring some joy to many people.”
But the most radical development has been supporters taking to the streets to demand something be done. Recently the Football Supporters Federation organised a demonstration which marched on the FA headquarters in London demanding “Affordable Football for All”. The need for such a grassroots movement to exert pressure on those who own and control football has never been greater. Will it succeed given the wealth and power of those it opposes? Maybe not, but working class fans are increasingly priced out of the people’s game and if we don’t speak out then nothing will ever change.