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Cashing In On Fan Support

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Jumpers for Goalposts: How Football Sold Its Soul
by Rob Smyth and Georgina Turner
Published 1st December, £11.99 paperback original, Elliott & Thompson

Jumpers for Goalposts is a fascinating and funny reflection on why football has changed so much since the inception of the English Premier League in 1992, and why the old descriptions of “the beautiful game” and “the people’s game” no longer fit. An engaging study of how football has sold its soul – and, perhaps more importantly, whether it can get it back.

Smyth & Turner look at all the things that have stripped the charm and innocence from football, a list that includes grotesque wages and transfer fees, diving, 4-5-1, TV overkill, political correctness – and the lack of decent moustaches.

Here’s an extract from this excellent book:

Cashing In

Before football became an ‘integrated leisure experience’ (thank you, FA Blueprint for the Future of Football), deciding to go to the game required nothing more than a pat of your pockets. Keys? Wallet? Right, I’m off.

For a start you could just turn up at the ground and buy your ticket, a forgotten joy for huge numbers of Premier League supporters whose clubs put up more and more hoops for them to jump through, their talk of the strength of demand lingering somewhere between boast and blackmail.

For £10, our sorry-looking Blue Manchester City member gets roughly the same benefits as a member of the Sooty fan club: a card and a badge. It’s an extra £15 for ticket priority. Tottenham fans have to pay £38 for ticket priority for 2011/12, rising to £44 if they don’t want to pay by direct debit.

Arsenal fan Pat Riddell has abandoned his £20, half-season Arsenal membership because it was ‘practically worthless. Despite the fact the club claim there are 3,500 tickets available for every Premier League game, it’s practically impossible to get hold of them.’

In the Bundesliga, clubs set tighter limits on what percentage of the ground can be given over to season ticket holders specifically to create more opportunities for people to turn up on the day and support the club. Maybe it’s not the perfect solution, but like the rest of the German league, it’s done in the name of fairness and affordable access; £30 paid, essentially, to get a login for the online ticketing system seems to be done in the name of making money out of even the thought of buying a ticket.

Much like season ticket waiting lists, for which several clubs now charge. This is, supposedly, to sort the determined fans from the vaguely interested and to ensure the whole thing is properly administered, but there are obvious bonuses for the clubs. Taking £15 from each of the 40,000+ supporters they list in it, Arsenal have banked at least £600,000 for an Excel file.

As well as the cash, clubs can launch fan-screwing charges by saying, glibly: ‘we have thousands of people paying to queue for a ticket.’ In reality, of course, the queues are long enough and the sums are set just low enough that the half-interested will still reach for their pocket. One Liverpool fan who paid £5 to be on the list joined it in 1999, and is still 3,000 places from the front. Another, who joined in 2001, is at No. 5,290. In the meantime the cost of season tickets at Anfield has gone up by as much as £340.

This is an extract from Jumpers for Goalposts: How Football Sold Its Soul by Rob Smyth and Georgina Turner , published 1st December, £11.99 paperback original, Elliott & Thompson.

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