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By Tony Attwood
A story broke yesterday revealing that Chelsea have decided to drop the small subsidy that they have previously offered on coach travel for away games in the Premier League and the domestic cups. The club has stated that it was “not financially sustainable to continue” with the offer.
There has been no public statement on how much the policy has cost the club, and as I don’t go to Arsenal away matches by coach I’ve no idea if Arsenal have a similar policy, but from the PR point of view the decision by Chelsea at this moment looks a bit ham-fisted coming as it does after Chelsea have broken the UK transfer record for a second time in buying Moisés Caicedo from Brighton with the deal costing well over £100m.
And in a way this is very curious in that the club clearly doesn’t have a competent senior person working on the public relations concerning suporters. Although this is something we have suspected for a very long time – not only with Chelsea by with all clubs.
The notion seems to be that supporters will support the club no matter what, and pay whatever is asked, and so really the club doesn’t have to bother with them. Matches are sold out, away tickets are very hard to come by, there is a long waiting list for season tickets… indeed why worry about supporters?
Instead, the PR effort of the club goes into liaison with journalists, wineing and dining them, giving them the best seats in the house, arranging special interviews… Such matters are not done for those of us who attend all the home games but for the sake of TV. TV companies have long made it clear that they don’t like spaces in the stands – they want a spectacle backed by a full stadium. Deliver that, and that’s fine, nothing else matters.
Indeed it is even fine if they show pictures of fans leaving early because the club is 0-3 down at home. That again is a news story because they can then switch the picture to the jubilant away support. But ultimately, we, the fans who go to games, really don’t matter.
Regulations for entering the ground can change, roofs can leak pouring water on supporters (Arsenal please note), kick-off times can be delayed meaning if we stay to the end we miss the train, technology can break down at the point of entry, but who cares? The ground is full, and more money is earned from TV than is from season ticket holders.
So step by step, those of us who go to games have become ever less important, largely because our support is unconditional. I am sure I am like you; I could never support any other major team. True, having moved out of north London, I occasionally go and watch my local club on a Saturday afternoon when Arsenal are not playing, but that is hardly a problem for Arsenal. Corby Town are not going to get promoted into the National League, let alone the Football League, and are also not going to make it to the third round of the FA Cup, so there is no problem. I’m still committed to Arsenal.
The problem is simply they are not fully committed to me, nor many others like me. We are simply part of their funding. If I go, there are plenty more behind me who would love my seat.
Which is not to say I think Arsenal act in the same crass manner as Chelsea, but like all Premier League clubs they will change the dates and times of games at a moment’s notice, and arrange games during the holiday periods without any thought of whether there is suitable public transport available for people who live out of town.
But Chelsea now seem to have taken this model and gone even further. They have spent around £1bn on transfers since Clearlake Capital took the club over, and as a result came 12th last season. They are doing better now, of course, as they are currently 10th. And coach subsidies are cut.
I am not sure what fans who attend matches can do to try and make clubs aware that without the fans, there is nothing. But it might be good if we could come up with something, just to remind the clubs that actually, we do matter. A big banner saying, “Without us, there is no football” might be helpful – although I rather suspect there is now no way of smuggling such a banner into the ground. Maybe we need some new chants and songs – just to remind everyone that we are still there.
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