The other day I found a copy of United We Stand, the independent Manchester United football fanzine written by Andy Mitten from back in December 1995. I have been buying this fanzine since it first landed outside Old Trafford but I kept this particular edition purely because on the back is a picture of Eric Cantona climbing back out of the crowd in the old K stand at Old Trafford after chasing a pass but ending up over the advertising boards and into the crowd. One the top left of the picture is my dad, sadly I am just out of shot to the left of him but I decided to keep this copy purely because of that picture.
I started to read the editorial by Andy Mitten and it made me smile as it was discussing the rising cost of attending football matches in the mid 1990`s and the flood of money coming into the game since Sky got involved. Funny how we move on 20 years and the new TV deal has been announced which will be an astronomical £5billion.
Andy makes some excellent points back then in 95 which are still relevant today and I remember back then when I was 21 years old reading the article wondering if I would ever be able to afford to carrying on watching my team home and away, year after year. At 21, I was fortunate to be in full time employment, not yet married and had money to follow football, but the signs were worrying with the cost of season tickets going up year on year and the way away fans were being exploited by having to pay more for a ticket than the home supporter. Even worse if you supported one of the so called bigger teams, due to clubs categorizing games, you paid more for a seat at a game than a supporter of a side lower in the table. Sounds like 2015 doesn't it?
The points made by Mitten can be said of today. He wrote " Christmas greeting and best wishes for the new year. Your finances didn't need to be relieved of another quid (the price of the fanzine in 95) what with all the tickets that you've had to shell out for over a period that's heavy on your pocket. Leeds and Spurs tickets at £21, Liverpool at £16 and the cup tie with Sunderland, it hasn't been a cheap time for the match-going red".
Move on 20 years and those prices have trebled which is frightening to think what will be the price of a ticket in 10 years? Despite all the money thrown into football, mainly at the top end and the premier league, no one is reducing ticket prices for fans. Add the travelling costs with petrol much higher now than 20 years ago, train travel much higher and yet football fans will still find the money to go to the game and this is why clubs do nothing about reducing the cost to the supporter. There is still the demand for tickets. You could factor in the price of food and match programmes has risen but have wages risen at the same rate, no.
Mitten went on to write “Five years ago (1990) the Taylor report concluded that "fans should not be unfairly discriminated against as seats replace terracing. If a terrace place cost £4, then it would be reasonable to charge £6 for a seat". Those good intentions seem comical looking back five years on".
Whilst money has come into the game and grounds have been improved, the match day experience for my son aged 14 is very different and safer than when I was 14 in 1988, yet too many have still lined their own pockets from Sky`s millions.
The discrimination with ticket pricing continues. United fans were charged £21 for an away ticket at Leeds in 1995 whereas Man City fans were charged £15, City fans will now be seeing that they are being exposed now their profile has risen massively but this sort of discrimination must be challenged and stopped, yet it was going on 20 years ago and will be going on in another 20 years.
I was fortunate at 16 to leave school and walk into a job. This allowed me to continue to afford to follow my team which I did home and away. Each year, season tickets went up, as did the price of away tickets but I was fortunate as I earned a reasonable wage, had little to pay out still living at home and having no car, my money went on football, beer and clothes.
Today, a 16 year old may find it very difficult to experience what I did and not be able to afford going to football week in, week out and that is a shame as the next generation of supporter coming from the working classes may die off and be replaced by the tourist from Asia or the rich higher classes who see football as the new opera and will not be around when their team falls on hard times or they find a new hobby to throw cash at.
Mitten touched on this subject when he wrote "I asked a 16 year old fanzine reader if he was going to Forest. Because of the £18 ticket cost (no concessions) the thought of him travelling to Nottingham hadn't even crossed his mind. I put some thought into it, how can a 16 year old lad at college afford £18 to attend a match? he cant."
Today, a 16 year old would have to pay more than double that to see United play at Forest but the problem is, the away would be full so no one challenges the pricing at football. Yes we moan about it, like I am doing now, there are banners highlighting fans outrage at ticket costs, but nothing is done to tackle the problem head on. Clubs know this and therefore charge what they like. My club is no different in charging away fans top dollar, but they will see other clubs do it and not be challenged so they get away with it.
Whilst my season ticket price has been frozen for a few years now I cannot afford to travel to away games and I still live with the fear that one day in my lifetime, I may not be able to afford to buy that season ticket along with all the cup games on top. My biggest fear though is that my boys will may never be able to afford to follow their team. Times have changed, you could pay on the day at the turnstile when I was a teenager but in the days of all seater stadia and having to have a ticket prior to the game, even with a capacity of 76,000, the chances of a regular ticket are slim.
The experiences I and other supporters have of growing up watching their side, stood on terraces in old dilapidated grounds in the good old bad old days I will never forget and football is more sanitised these days maybe for the better as my lad will hardly ever witness football violence or death at a football match, but then again he may never be able to afford to go to games if the cost continues to rise despite to billions pumped into it.
Many will try to fight the good fight and campaign for a change in ticket pricing but sadly due to my experiences over time, I have become numb to it and have little faith in anything changing. Whether you feel that attitude is right or wrong, I still applaud those who continue to try to change things. Sadly I will continue to dip into my pocket and find the cash to follow football and that is something the clubs know and why they will never change their stance, unless the grounds suddenly fail to be filled.
Written by Ian Hope [@fromtwelveyards]