City fans refusal to pay opens an important debate

City fans refusal to pay opens an important debate

Ahead of the Man City game on Sunday, an interesting story that City returned over 800 tickets to Arsenal, and there’s strong evidence that this is because their fans have deliberately chosen to boycott the game due to the price of the ticket, which comes in at £62.

It raises an interesting debate. On the one hand, a club like City has to accept that their policy of spending a fortune on transfers, and subsequently wages, has, along with Chelsea and other oil rich clubs, done more than anything to skew the market. Signing Emmanuel Adebayor and paying him £170,000 per week, for example, was not a deal done with any kind of forward thinking. After he had his usual bright start, the little boy inside him – who is a monstrous twat – came into play and City wanted to get rid. But who would buy him? Nobody, and it had little to do with his attitude and everything to do with his wages.

He went on loan to Real Madrid, then a season on loan at Sp*rs where City paid the majority of his wages, and even when Sp*rs wanted to buy him permanently, it took all summer to do a deal because they couldn’t match his City salary. He wasn’t going to take such a huge cut, in the end they had to pay him off. Na$ti went up there to earn as close to £200,000 a week as he could. There are players on £200,000+ every week, some of whom are very good. There are also very average players there earning a fortune in comparison with players at other clubs.

And it has a knock-on effect. For example, I’ve often heard people suggest that it’s right for Theo Walcott to look for the ‘going rate’ for an England international when the likes of Milner, Barry, Lescott, Lampard, Terry, Cole and so on, are on massive money at their clubs. It’s always struck me as a facile argument and one which stands up to little scrutiny. If Walcott goes there to play, then he can use that as a measurement, but if he plays at Arsenal his salary should be relative to those at this club. Will that make him think twice about signing for Arsenal? I think we can see that his refusal to do so for the last 18 months is proof of that.

It’s not just Arsenal though, it affects every team in the league. The super rich can gazump who they want in terms of transfers, they can pay whatever it takes to get a player regardless of how destabilising that is, and all it does is force wages across the game higher. Footballers look at their contemporaries and want to be paid accordingly. They don’t really care if their club can afford it, if it’s on offer somewhere else they’ll have no compunction in fucking off to get it.

And at Arsenal wages have risen considerably in the last few years. The figures, via Swiss Ramble, highlight that. 2007 – £89.7m 2008 £101.3m – 2009 £104m – 2010 -£110.7m 2011 – £124.4m 2012 – £143.4

Scary. Some of the increases in the last couple of seasons can, perhaps, be attributed to the fact that the club as a whole is growing, with more staff in all areas, but the majority of it is down to increased player salaries. We are paying more, because we have to pay more. I don’t want to get into a debate or analysis about the inefficiencies we have in terms of wages with some of the playing staff, it’s been done, we all know about it, but the bottom line is that in order to stay somewhat ‘competitive’, we’ve renewed deals, signed players on better wages and so on.

A stark fact from Swiss Ramble – “Since 2009 wages have gone up £39 million (38%), while revenue has only grown by £10 million (5%)”.

Now, that was written before the renewed and improved sponsorship deal with Emirates was announced, but that’s what we were contending with. It’s a global problem, no question, and wages will always go up, but the rate at which they did so was accelerated by clubs like Man City and Chelsea. Look at PSG, spending whatever it took to get Zlatan and other big name players, and then, essentially, pissing all over FFP by announcing an annual €150m ‘sponsorship’ deal which is little more than the owners pumping money into the club under the guise of something acceptable and official.

So you might feel little sympathy for Man City fans who baulk at paying £62, but are they to blame for the fact that the people who run their club are mad and have no compunction in spending whatever it takes? Shouldn’t there be some kind of solidarity between fans regarding ticket prices. I know it’s supply and demand and all that, but I’ve watched Gingers4Limpar struggle to move two spares for one of the highest profile games of the season, and it’s not difficult to see why:

£126 for a game of football?! I know, if you don’t like it, don’t go. And here’s the thing, City fans are choosing not to go, and I don’t think they deserve any criticism for it. It’s not a question of condoning what your club does and paying the price for it, it’s something that affects all football fans and this is the first time I can really remember a situation where away fans have said ‘No, enough is enough, that’s too much.’

Is is a watershed moment? Who knows? Maybe it’s a January, post-Christmas, festive empty wallet thing, but it strikes me that it’s more to do with the price of the game in general. It raises questions too about whether or not we want to contribute to that. There are some who won’t care one bit about how expensive it is for City fans yet call for a billionaire to pump money into Arsenal to continue the artificial inflation of player salaries and transfer fees, when ultimately it’s fans who pay. Billionaires are rarely philanthropists, the market will drive prices ever upwards. At which point it will be a game that’s beyond too many. It already is, stories of long-term fans being priced out of the game are not hard to find.

To be fair to Arsenal, initiatives like the £10 tickets for the Carling Cup are fantastic, and keep football open and affordable for the next generation, but in general it’s impossible not to think that prices across the game are simply too high and we’re now beginning to see the consequences of that. It’s noticeable in the Emirates, it has been for a couple of seasons. A smattering of empty seats here and there is not uncommon, but the blocks of red are growing. It’s got something to do with the football, no question, but it would be foolish to ignore the underlying reason – and people simply aren’t prepared to pay for what they’re getting.

A combination of high-prices, under-performance and refusal to invest what’s there is negatively affecting the very life and soul of the club – the fans. How long before that has a knock-on effect on revenue in other ways, such as sponsorships, advertising, endorsements and so on? Do you want to pay for a pitchside ad running in front of swathes of empty seats? It’s not just Arsenal, football has a problem that it is doing little to address seriously. The PSG example above shows how owners come in, and use clubs as playthings with no thought whatsoever about how it affects the game in general. But they’ll, quite rightly, say that they can do what they want within the rules, it’s not their job to police the game or run their club for the benefit of others.

It’s down to those who run football to ensure that the game doesn’t eat itself, and given what we have in charge it’s little surprise that things are the way they are. Both FIFA and UEFA have, in recent years, made it quite clear that their priority is to make as much money as possible from football. They’ve done it without any kind of forward thinking and by exploiting the game as it is, rather than trying to make football as good as it possibly can be and then reaping the rewards. With that kind of ‘leadership’ it’s no wonder the game has the problems it does.

Blatini wants money, money, money. Forget the soul of the game; forget fair play and honesty; forget things that would improve it like video evidence during a match; forget that things like foul play, racism and corruption ought to be eradicated but are dealt with in a pathetic, mealy mouthed fashion in case they tarnish the game in the eyes of the sponsors who pay the money to make the rich men richer.

It’s fucked, the whole thing is fucked. Unless fans, who are the people who really make football clubs great, do something about it. So as loathsome as the City ownership model is, and as unseemly as the way they’ve behaved since being taken over is, I reckon the fans who refused to pay £62 to travel to see a Premier League football game, might just be doing us all a favour. Even if it’s just to get us talking about this properly.

Till tomorrow.