A brief brush of blue in a blanket sky of grey – how it felt as a football fan, hearing that FSG decided against the proposed increase in top-tier ticket prices at Liverpool games from £59 to £77. This proposed increase created a furore over the price of watching football at Anfield which, stoked by the team’s abject performances on the pitch, has been whistling in the background for a few years now. The issue ignited a week of debate between club and fan, with the former arguing that the ticket raise was balanced out by an atomic portion of tickets being priced at £9 at the other end of the scale.
As Paul Cope explained in The Anfield Wrap, the debate itself was one which ignored the main issues at hand: that the general level of ticket prices at Anfield are pricing those who have travelled to games for years and younger fans out of attendance. I’ve done a bit of digging myself, and trying to find cold hard statistics on the average price of a ticket at Anfield, let alone the Premier League in general is a bit of a nightmare – the closest I got was a Daily Mail article (no chance am I linking anything in my writing to that rag) which claimed the Anfield average stood at nearly £50. Furthermore, David Conn wrote a brilliant article in the Guardian a few years back which showed that, for example, the cheapest-seat ticket at Old Trafford has increased some 700% since 1990, an increased mirrored and also surpassed at Anfield, the Emirates, and at many other of the league’s stadiums.
Inflation meanwhile, as Conn described has increased a mere 77% in the same time period, while average real wages appear to have risen somewhere in the region of 50%. Ultimately then, the price of watching top-tier football has absolutely hammered its way beyond the income growth of the average local supporter over the last 30 years, outstripping the growth of people’s pocket money in excess of ten times over.
At the minute, protests against high ticket prices are unlikely to reverse this trend, namely because the entire model of modern football is fuelled by the relentless chucking spin of hyper-inflation. In the Premier League, the game’s bosses broker record TV deal after record TV deal and saddle stadiums, club shirts and television channels with the signatures of lucrative sponsorship deals. This in turn arms clubs with the power to purchase players for obscene levels of money at equally preposterous wage rates. And as with bees to a pot of honey, rats to a sewer, armies of agents, PR squads and bureaucrats flock to throw added timbre down the landslide, siphoning off their own chunks of wealth while they do so. In this sense, the issue of ticket prices is only a stream within, and sprinting off from the sea of the problem: that football has become an ultra-commercialised, venture capitalistic patch of social terrain. And it is on this very terrain that the lines dividing and crafting footballing success from lucrative business have become dissolved and now obliterated, into a point of corporate nihilism.
It’s clear that ultimately, Liverpool’s owners have no intention at all of reducing prices to truly affordable levels: this would work to undermine their entire project, driving against the staggering efforts over recent years to commercialise every last drop of the club’s blood. As fans, we need to look elsewhere. Only a football which is owned and run collectively by fans, rather than businessmen, will work and operate towards fan interests. There are various models of this in today’s game, each working to differing degrees of success. The obvious example is in Germany, where a ‘50%+1’ law requires nearly all clubs in the Bundesliga to be owned by a supporter-collective majority shareholder stake. Tickets are much cheaper than they are in England, and the example of Germany offers a clear indication that even in modern football’s tiring reality, there is an alternative. In England, this alternative requires installation from institutions such as the Premier League and the FA: two institutions who’s devotion to the status-quo and greed still astounds, with every new announcement of McDonalds partnerships and proposals for ‘marketing league matches‘ to be played in Dubai. It therefore falls to us, as fans, to wrestle our domestic game towards this near-utopian glimmer in modern football.
Yet even in Germany, fans still pay vulgar amounts of money to watch live football at times. Dortmund fans recently protested by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch away at Stuttgart, after a quarter of their fans paid 70Euros for a ticket before travelling over 400kilometres to watch the game. And in a Bundesliga team, the remaining 49% of shares typically belongs to a variety of corporate entities – usually team sponsors. The sheer power of Bayern Munich’s sponsorship deals over the last 30 years with companies such as Adidas, Allianz and Audi, has fattened the club’s transfer budgets for new players in monstrous proportions and helped rifle the club to levels of domestic and continental success which absolutely dwarfs that of any other side in Germany. Such gross inequality in resources suggests that the model needs refining yet more. And why not. The one-fan one-vote policy of FC United of Manchester, a club thrashed together in fury upon Malcolm Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United, is unlikely to find international success on the pitch any time soon. But a more a much difficult task is at hand: the task to save the spectacle of modern football from the prying lense of a furious desire to commercialise and profiteer from all of its earthy, utopian brilliance. And any success at all in this battle, is a victory worth fighting for.