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Is the decline in away support caused by increased prices, television coverage or transport costs?

By Tony Attwood

Premier League grounds were, on average, somewhere around 95% full last season on average.  But it turns out, the number of away supporters fell by 9%.  (Most clubs, I imagine, do what Arsenal do, and ask for unsold tickets back by a date a few weeks before the game, so that they can offer them to their own support.  So the ground isn’t partially empty – it is just that there are fewer away supporters there.)

It is often stated that one reason for the Premier League’s popularity on TV screens is the sight of the full grounds and the atmosphere within the grounds, helped along by away fans.  And so shock horror panic – away fan numbers are down, and we must do something about it.

One of the saddest things in football today is that all analyses of complex situations tend to be simplified in such a way that most of the complexities of the issue disappear.  Such a simplification is encouraged by the media that generally treat football fans with contempt, seeing them as simplistic beer swilling fellows, a sort of throw back to the happy chappies that waved scarves and wore flat caps in the inter-war years.

There is an interesting story within this, which the media has picked up on, in that Cardiff, which used to be a most horrific ground to visit, is now apparently a model of how the away trip should be.  Obviously with Cardiff not having been in the Premier League for a while, I can only judge by their FA Cup games against Arsenal in recent years – and I can attest that they were just about the worst places to visit in the country, largely because the police took the view that anyone wearing red and white (this was when Cardiff wore blue) was a wreckless hooligan rather than a respectable member of society.  (And yes I do object to a young officer walking behind me filming the back of my neck from about 20cm away, in order to provoke me to turn round and remonstrate.  He didn’t like it when I turned round and blew him a kiss).

I can only hope that quite a few of the members of the constabulary present on that occasion have now been removed from the force and are reduced to selling burgers from vans.

But meanwhile those debating the issue of visiting supporters like to make out that prices for visiting fans is the key issue of concern, but I am really not sure if this is right.

In the Premier League away supporters pay the same as home supporters do for identical parts of the ground.    Yes, if you regularly go to a ground with cheap prices it might well be a shock to see the prices charged by Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, but that’s how it is.  The north London clubs charge more, and since they have the right to do so, that’s that.

The whole debate took off when it turned out that Manchester City had failed to sell 900 tickets for the match last January against Arsenal at the Ems.  The tickets were £62 each, and upon returning them they were snapped up by Arsenal fans who (it seemed to me) made just as much noise as the Manchester City fans next to them.

Why should Arsenal prices be blamed for this?  Why not also consider the fact that the match was on TV, and the fact that rail prices went up between 6 and 10% in January this year – just in time for the Man City game.   Or maybe consider that in the past five years petrol prices have gone up 38% – although maybe the football authorities with their PL supplied cars and chauffeurs didn’t notice.

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In recent years I have cut back on my trips to see Arsenal away for all sorts of reasons.  Not family reasons, I might add, because my daughters have all grown up and left home, and not work reasons either, as I am currently decreasing my work load.  But because of the cost and the hassle.  The cost of petrol, the way the away grounds treat us, the endless problems on England’s roads, and the fact that I can stay at home, have a glass of red wine, and watch it on tele.

(I just want to pause on the road issue – as it happens I live in the East Midlands, so in one sense home games are like away games for me, and I can tell you that I did not have one single midweek game last season in which Drew and I were able to drive back to Northampton without going through a substantial part of the M1 where all traffic was reduced to one lane.  And you wonder why people don’t travel?)

But let’s consider TV for a moment.  How many times have you seen the TV companies showing pictures of fans walking out of the ground early, rather than fans cheering in delight?  How many times have you seen TV companies fail to recognise the away support is there at all?  No TV is not doing away fans a favour – we are treated like fodder, or simple dolts who will deliver a one line piece of nonsense for quick TV digestion.  I was once asked by a TV interviewer prior to an away game at Aston Villa how I thought Arsenal would do.  I started to expound my theory of the interaction between Henry and Pires being the key to the game, and the journalist turned away, told the cameraman to stop filming, and they walked off.  I had used more than 10 words, and several of the words I had used had two syllables in.

Time after time after time, I would suggest, we are treated with contempt by TV, and I rather fancy that this season it might be a nice idea to do a review of how TV companies actually cover Arsenal.  Are they bothering to acknowledge the away support?  Are they still running the nonsense of the “Highbury Library” story?  Do they seize on the moment when half a dozen fans walk out to suggest disgruntlement?  In short are they using all the old short cuts to put across a message that says,

a) fans are fickle and stupid

b) fans don’t matter

[If you would like to write such a column for Untold, please do email me – Tony.Attwood@aisa.org]

Just looking backwards for a moment, I have often cited the August 15 2009 game – Everton v Arsenal – at the very start of the season.  I remember it because my outrageous prediction of a 1-7 victory to Arsenal would have been correct if only Ramsey hadn’t shot wildly across goal with just a minute to go.

But leaving that aside there was the issue of the TV coverage.  While every Arsenal supporter in the ground went wild with delight throughout much of the game, the TV channel chatted on about what a tragedy it was for old Everton players who had come along on this day, that they couldn’t see their team win.  Pictures of the crowd?  Not on your life.

Of course cheaper tickets are always welcome – but beware when the media start a little bandwagon rolling – they usually have an ulterior motive.   The reason for the decline in away support is much more complex than the fact that the prices of tickets.

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11 comments to Is the decline in away support caused by increased prices, television coverage or transport costs?

  • Terence McGovern

    You have to think that in a current climate of recession where people are inclined to make a few economically frugal decisions, expenditure on away football match outings would qualify as low hanging fruit.
    The real surprise is that away attendances are only down 9%.
    Still in the absence of genuine football news I am sure that the mainstream media will milk their obtuse, LCD, red-herring angle on this story for all it’s worth.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice and timely article, Tony .As one who lives far away and watches on tv (and then only at home )and who did not understand the difficulty of the away fans ,I must say that I now view them in a different light.
    I’ll always seen the away Arsenal fans being very vocal and passionate(despite their smaller numbers) and fully behind the team .Well done guys ,and more of the same for the coming season !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    I suppose that its only right that we strive to show or tell the truth to our friends even if it may seem brutal or crass; lest ,they too fall into the pit .
    Thank god for good buddies !

    A man brings his best buddy home for dinner.

    His wife screams at him. “My hair & makeup are not done, the house is a mess, the dishes are not done, I’m still in my pajamas and I can’t be bothered with cooking tonight! What the hell did you bring him home for?

    “Because he’s thinking of getting married….”

  • @Swales1968

    Do TV care about the fans? Perhaps the question should be do the PL/FA care about the fans? Or even apart from the fans does anybdy care about the fans?

    Games are changed at almost a drop of a hat to suit TV scheduals with not thought of the traveling fan either home or away. It is easy to look at the plight of the away fan but why not all fans, I travel an hour to get to see Arsenal play at home, my friends travel down from Bedford and one comes from Peterborough. I know of other fans who travel down from Norwich and I am sure there are those who travel further for home games. Why should these fans not be included in the fight for cheaper tickets.

    TV always go for the easy almost lazy quotes regarding fans Liverpool always have great fans, Spurs have great European nights, smaller clubs have passionate fans etc if you go through the PL I bet you can come up with a media sterotype of clubs fans, Arsenals being quiet. When your team is losing 3-0 TV will always show the fans leaving but are they leaving or just going for a drink, toilet break and to vent their anger to anybody who will listen.

    TV do not necessarly have an agenda against fans but more of a lazy contempt for them at a number of away games last season you could clearly hear Arsenal fans singing but the atmosphere was only mentioned when the home fans started making some noise, this goes back to the sterotypeing of all fans by the media in general.

  • nicky

    In my view, TV is the cause of all that is good and bad in sport.
    For those who for one reason or another cannot attend or partake in sporting contest, it is a veritable godsend. The TV screen becomes a window on the world of sport, through which the sick, the old and the lethargic can watch at leisure.
    On the other hand, the power of commercial TV is wielding ever increasing dominance in the world of sport. Advertising has resulted in the escalation of wages, prize money,

  • nicky

    admission fees and almost every other income and expenditure in professional sport.
    As the standard of living has improved for most but not all mankind, so many forms of corruption have been spawned inevitably by the business side of sport.
    To sum up, TV has a lot to answer for although care should be taken that too much control over the original purity of sport, must at all costs be avoided.

  • Adam

    nicky, any chance you could define what your view of; The original purity of sport is? Im interested in your view on this subject.
    Thankyou in advance.

  • nicky

    @Adam,
    What I intended to mean was professional sport BEFORE it became big business and was tainted by the imperative need to succeed…..not for the fans but for the accountants and the investors.
    OK, in the olden days, clubs always wanted to succeed and HOPED to make the odd profit but NOT at the expense of all else.
    At nearly 90 Adam, I’m entitled to regard the past through rose tinted spectacles! Of course sport wasn’t exactly pure in my day but near on pure when compared to today!

  • Adam

    Thankyou nicky, I think we have a major problem today, not that Arsenal fans will notice as we are part of the Elite.
    But getting a smaller club to build itself up and maintain a challenge over many years seems to be a thing of the past, sad to admit but true.

    I have been heavily influenced by the EC’s “fair and balanced competition” principles. I am a huge believer in a more evenly spread solidarity mechanism for all clubs in the professional pyramid.

    Those outside the premier league now, will find it difficult to get in and stay in with the new TV deal in place, and those clubs who have a player who could move up, will lose them quickly due to the increased finances of those above.

    Our sport today is so finance driven it taints it all for me.

  • nicky

    @Adam,
    Although I’m afraid the last sentence of your comment says it all, it may just be possible that one day the financial bubble will burst.

  • Dazzler

    It is quite simply the travel cost for most people. Unfortunately for my sins I live in Yorkshire these days, but still made 11 games at The Emirates last year and 5 away games as well including a trip to Reading and Brighton. But my point is that for me a home game comes with circa £120 worth of rail travel (for me and the missus) + the game cost which is a pretty expensive day out.

    When it comes to away games I am always immensely impressed with the support Arsenal fans bring. Especially considering that usually my away games are in obscure locations such as Wigan, Newcastle and similar. Which are by no means easy or cost effective to get along to for the average gooner of course.

    But I also feel that there is an issue here with how tickets are allocated for away games and the old away credits scenario. Arsenal have fans all over the country and many who relish the odd away game. Getting tickets however for many away games can be an absolute nightmare. There should be an away games season ticket or an away games Red Membership policy for those fans who dare I say it live in Wales of the North West and similar.