Manchester United’s match against the A-League All Stars was watched by over 75,000 adoring fans. Liverpool are set to play to a crowd of almost 100,000 in Melbourne, whilst Chelsea and Arsenal have both had sell-outs in Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia. Whilst the fans in the UK are trying to protest and fight for changes and ticket-price caps, foreign fans are picking up the baton more than ever, with the massive new TV contract effectively ending any say we had in the game at the top clubs.
In the UK, we’ve seen the way footballers behave in comparison to Olympic athletes, we’re used to the spin and propaganda of the red-top tabloids, running agendas on behalf of the top agents and players, and we’re shocked by the obscene amounts of money that players, managers and CEOs are paid.
Most of that money comes directly from the fans who have paid to watch the match, with some tickets having risen in price by over 100% in the last 10 years alone, and considerably more since the hooligan-strewn days of the 1980s. It’s no wonder we begrudge them that cash – it’s come straight from our back pockets.
Because of the amount of money we have to pay, we feel like we have a right to be entertained, and when we’re not we’re quite happy to voice our opinion to the bunch of mercenary footballers supposedly playing their hearts out for our club. Hence the boos, even at clubs like Spurs and Arsenal, when results don’t go our way. Back in the day the thing that stood out in English football (that all the foreign players seemed to notice) was that we backed the team no matter what – in sharp contrast to fans in Italy and Spain – but that is fast becoming part of the history of the game.
Who can blame the fans? They are the ones who have been fleeced by the clubs they love, who have had their loyalty taken advantage of by commericial directors who simply see fans as a gift that simply keeps on giving. Every year they see millions of us shell out for tickets, live matches on TV, and their official tat, and with the FFP coming in they will continue to try to squeeze every last penny out of us. Where once we all used to be on the same side, it’s become a distinctly them and us scenario.
Fans are starting to take action – the rally at the Premier League HQ was surely just the start of things to come – but its a matter of too little, too late.
The only thing that will force change in the way clubs treat fans is if their bottom-line is hit by fan boycotts, but with the vast amounts of money coming in from abroad in TV deals and the hundreds of thousands of fans who pay to watch the international exhibition matches, this is never going to happen.
One of the stats to come out of the new international TV rights deal was that Manchester United (the largest ticket-seller) would be able to give all their tickets away for free, and still be no worse off than the season just gone, which just goes to show how much of an impact an fan rallys or boycotts would be – the truth is that the clubs don’t need us any more. Effectively the one weapon we had to hurt the clubs, and force them to listen to us, has been taken off us.
Where does this leave us? We can protest, boo and snarl at the team, and have protest marches and boycotts, but it no longer matters to the club whether we go to games or not, or whether we buy the tat or not – they know there are a few hundred million fans in the Far East who are begging to pay money to watch the games, and wear the official 3rd away training top.
With this new international stream of revenue coming in, clubs can ride roughshod over the UK fans, and we have no option other than to accept it.
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