“The word fanatic has been used many times… I think it’s more than fanaticism. It’s a religion to them. The thousands who come here, come to worship… it’s a sort of shrine, it isn’t a football ground.” – Bill Shankly
Bill Shankly embodied the zeitgeist; during his reign spanning from 1959-74, he developed and nurtured a cultural relationship between the supporters, the players and the club. The fans would do anything for the players, the players would do anything to please the fans, and the club was a medium for this; enabling fathers to take their sons to Anfield, inspiring the next generation, exposing them to the electric atmosphere and breathtaking football. Football was alive.
Now football is dead.
Since 1989, the average ticket price has rose by 716%, and last year Sky and BT bid £5.136bn for rights to broadcast Premier League football, with recent reports now stating that the 20 Premier League clubs are to share £8.3bn out for the upcoming season; all the more ridiculous when ticket prices have been hiked up to an average of £77 at Anfield.
Considering Liverpool FC will receive, at the very least, a £415 million windfall, and posted a 19% increase in revenue last year, alongside a profit too, a rise in ticket prices has no real fair economic reasoning behind it, and neither does it appear warranted for the displays produced on the pitch.
Last season, Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, humiliated 4-1 by Arsenal, beaten in the FA Cup for the first time by (this season’s 1/33 relegation favourites) Aston Villa, and destroyed 6-1 by Stoke City, whilst this season Liverpool have been soundly beaten 3-0 by both West Ham and Watford, and struggling desperately in the FA Cup. Is witnessing this truly worthy of £77?
Similarly, next season there is no realistic prospect of Champions League football, and for the most part, Liverpool look drab and lifeless on the pitch, thus it appears completely unjustifiable to ask for an increase in ticket prices when the performances on the pitch barely warrant anything above £30. The club have practically received free money from the new Premier League broadcasting rights deals, and the new Main Stand, as well as commercial sponsorships suggest that revenue would be increasing vastly anyway; there is simply no need for a superfluous increase in prices.
“We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us? In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes. But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan. We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody.
“That’s the biggest difference between us and England.” – Uli Hoeness, former Bayern Munich club president
Bayern Munich’s season ticket prices range from £104-£540, and for that price you can see one of the best sides in the world playing prepotent and beautiful football; whereas Liverpool’s season ticket prices now exceed £1000, and for that price you can see the most inconsistent side in the Premier League crumble at home to Sunderland.
It must be stressed, the issue with ticket prices is not just about Liverpool, nor is it just about other clubs in the Premier League; this is part of a much greater issue of individuals being spurned in the face of avaricious groups. It appears that clubs and the FA do not look after fans anymore; the club paid only lip-service to fans via talks with supporter groups who were eventually overlooked in favour of greater profits. CEO’s, players and agents have all been subject to huge increases in salaries, but where is the payout for the fans, the fans that outlast the players, the agents and CEOs? The rise in exclusive prices is remarkably similar to how house prices in London have been subject to gross inflation, with houses though, the residents cannot simply walk out to send a message, but as seen on Saturday, when fans walk out the message is profound.
Some people may think that I am spouting Marxist drivel about this wider context of individuals being treated as subservient consumers, and these may even be the same people that abused fans who walked out of the game against Sunderland, but I need only point to the rise in popularity of figures such as Bernie Sanders in the US Democratic Presidential nomination, or Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party. People are angry about being treated this way, with profits the only motive for actions nowadays, and the fans’ decision to walk out is more than justified, it is actually the morally responsible thing to do.
The women, children and men who walked out on the 77th minute did not do it solely for their interests, it was in fact for you. The normal supporter. The lifelong fan, who just wants to see their team bring a smile to their face, and wants the chance to cheer them on.
The FA do not look after the supporters. The club does not look after the supporters. The only people that look out for the supporters, are now the supporters themselves. Where will the next Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher be, if their parents can’t afford to pay for a ticket? They won’t be inspired, they won’t feel the spine-tingling roar of The Kop or the glorious, booming rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone live. They’ll just become another child, with a good knack for football, who could have become something more, but was never given the chance.
Fans must not stop in this protest, solidarity is imperative. Liverpool fans must walk out again, and keep doing so until the club gives in, and drops not only the price of tickets, but the price of shirts and merchandise too. Football was the game of the working class, and although the working class may have changed over the past 40 years, it is unacceptable for fans to be rinsed of their money; £60 for a replica shirt is simply extortion. Liverpool fans cannot do this alone though, other Premier League, Championship or Football League clubs must join in too – fans are football, and the FA and the corporations running the clubs would do well to remember that. Supporters are the only people who can make a difference.
“The most important relationship at a football club is not between the manager and the chairman, but the players and the fans.” – John Toshack; the relationship between players and fans has broken down, as they live in an insulated bubble of excessive pay.
In the upcoming Arsenal vs. Barcelona Champions League tie, Arsenal planned to add a surcharge of between £18-30 to season ticket holders and charge upwards of £200 for normal tickets. Following a backlash from the supporters over the surcharge for season ticket holders, the club performed a u-turn over that particular policy, illustrating that the power and anger of fans can make a difference, albeit standard tickets are still ranging from the eye-watering £265 to the downright absurd £1500.
Football is much more than just watching from the sidelines, the clubs know this, and abuse the fans financially because of this.
Now, allow me a personal digression; last March, I embarked upon a Politics trip with my peers to Washington DC, and whilst we were there we attended an NBA match. At the same match, the Argentina football team were present, in a private box.
It was quite simply stunning, hundreds of people, upon realising that Messi and the Argentina squad were present, jumped out of their seats and ran towards the private box and waited outside of it, as the security would not let anybody in. Whilst I waited outside, I met several different groups; there were grown men and women, as well as children, all of different colour and even some who didn’t speak English, many sporting different football shirts, some South American teams, some Premier League teams, a surprising amount of Italian shirts, as well as the customary Real Madrid and Barcelona tops too. All of us were united by our common interest in just catching a glimpse of Messi in the flesh. We waited two hours, until after the game, packed outside the private box, chanting Messi’s name, eventually, the police were called, and we were all escorted out.
The people there all paid to watch a basketball match, but in an instant threw away the opportunity of watching a professional NBA match, just for the opportunity to see Messi and his teammates.
How does this relate to ticket prices and clubs abusing fans you ask? Well, the clubs are all too aware that many football fans, as Shankly said, are more than “fanatics”, and because they know that we, the fans, would give almost anything to see our teams, and that many of us supporters idolise players, they believe that they can charge any price, and that supporters will simply pay up. The same way those people in Washington DC wanted to see Messi, and even purchased used tickets for nearby seats for over triple the original ticket price.
The club is abusing the privilege that the fans have given it; the fans entrust the club to take care of them, and provide good performances on the pitch, and yet the club feels that even without performances on the pitch, or low revenue, that a price rise is justified, and that there still is ‘something for everyone’. The club and the directors are simply misguided and fallacious, just because some prices have fallen, and there are a few initiatives for local people to watch a handful of matches, that does not mean that the price rise is fair, or necessary, especially for fans who have had to watch the club decline from Champions League winners to a mid-table side over the past decade.
Fans give more than their fair share towards the club anyway; whenever Liverpool kick-off at 3pm on a Saturday, social media is inundated with supporters asking for illegal streams – fans are actually willing to break the law just to see their team play, and regularly give up around four hours minimum per week to watch matches and the relevant build-up. Should fans really be treated with disdain by their clubs despite their unwavering loyalty?
Jürgen Klopp recently queried about the culture of fans leaving early, and has indicated that he has been underwhelmed by the atmosphere. Yet even this relates to ticket prices; the fans have been hollowed out, many impassioned fans cannot afford tickets, and the atmosphere has suffered drastically as a result. Fans cannot spend £20 on a ticket and have a good time with their friends anymore, and now with the new Main Stand anticipated to have a sizeable portion allocated to ‘corporates’, the atmosphere will become even more lifeless, and, like Wembley, there will be unused seats, in fantastic positions overlooking the pitch, wasted.
The club and the directors are aware it can sell-out Anfield for the big games with high prices, but the atmosphere suffers drastically as a result; which even impinges on the performance on the players too – many a time in the past we’ve seen the ’12th man’ stir up one last push from the players, but this has become a rarity, with people more content to skip the traffic or sink their teeth into a cream cheese, smoked salmon rye-bread sandwich accompanied with a latté from the club restaurant.
The fans should have stood up against the rising price of football before, but currently, it seems a case of now or never. Players, managers, pundits, all past and present, should unify in the face of rising ticket prices and what rising prices represent – the hollowing out of the normal person in favour of big money interests. This protest should not be exclusive to Liverpool, but Liverpool should lead the way, the working class city, representing the interests of the working class.
If this protesting brings nothing to fruition, I, for one, do not want to be part of what the new Liverpool, and the new football represents.
Football is dead.
Long live Down with the new football.