Requiem for the Common Fan – A Symphony in Two Parts

Part I

According to the United Nations, and in common with the majority of countries in Western Europe, the United Kingdom is facing a potentially catastrophic problem.

Strangely, given its gravity, it’s a big issue that goes largely unreported by the popular media and politicians dare not speak its name. It is this:

It is projected that over the next 50 years, Britain’s population will fall to unsustainable levels (Read the full report here).

Why and how is this happening?

There are a number of oft-cited, cultural factors involved; women are more likely to have children later in life than was once the case, the sky-high divorce rate doesn’t bode well or inspire confidence for the endurance of the nuclear family, more and more of our citizens are making the conscious choice to live a single (and childless) life.

But, perhaps the biggest singular reason for our plunging populace is: Money.

The high cost of living on this island means the associated expense of raising multiple children is prohibitive to all but the seriously well-off and, as a result, large families are increasingly a ghost of the past.

Why should we be worried about this?

Cause and effect: An inadequate birth rate means an aging population. An aging population means a higher demand for core services; particularly those health-related. A higher demand for core services means greater resources are needed to meet the demand. Greater resources mean higher taxation. Higher taxation means unpopular government. Unpopular government means higher potential for civil unrest. Civil unrests could mean the break down of society.

But the solution to this problem is obvious: Get more people in.

The Germans being the Germans — forward-thinking, pragmatic, proactive — have reportedly sought to remedy this demographical shift in recent years by actively offering all kinds of enticing inducements to the intellectual cream of, mainly Slavic origin, youth prepared to up sticks and settle within Her borders. However, back in the Britain, no official government policy on the issue of Replacement Migration seemingly exists. Why? It’s conjecture but xenophobia is notoriously rife amongst the tabloid-reading, agenda-setting, Brit majority so immigration is traditionally a vote-losing, hot potato for political parties; hence, the unusual resonance of politicians to voice an opinion.

Yet salvation may have arrived in the form of recent additions to the membership of the European Union. Just over two years ago, several east European countries became full members of the E.U. and, as a consequence, their citizens now enjoy a roster of new rights — including the freedom of mobility amongst other member states. This means the United Kingdom can effectively operate a stealth (and totally unofficial) immigration policy…and there is nothing any amount of scare-mongering, hate-fuelled, front page headlines in The Sun and The Daily Mail can do to hinder it. Small wonder then, those of us that live in major cities now encounter an increasing number of Polish settlers in our day to day lives.

But how will this development affect the economic dynamics of Britain in the future? We will only know the answer to that question twenty years from now…

All very interesting but, err, what’s this got to do with football? Good question.

Part II

Meanwhile, and as is so often the case, the problems of the Real World are reflected on Planet Football where a population dilemma is also looming large. And the root cause is, once again, Money. But this has nothing to do with a lack of people – quite the reverse in fact – it concerns too many people wanting in.

Brand new stadiums and escalating wage bills require huge amounts of outgoing revenue and — naturally – clubs are keen to recoup at least part of this outlay via their bums-on-seat customers. Subsequently, as the price of a ticket to a game has increased, a marked change in the demographic make-up of football crowds has occurred. On the way out is the blue-collared, semi-skilled Traditional fan and, in their place, have come The New — an altogether more affluent, professional set.

It would be fair to say, that while the two opposing groups may support the same teams, they generally do not care for each other. The former branding the latter “fair-weathered, glory hunters”. Indeed, even those inside the game have voiced their concern about the passion and long-term commitment of the New fan (For reference: re-read Roy Keane’s (in)famous “Prawn sandwich” remark).

Of course, clubs have an absolute right to secure the maximum price for the glorious spectacle they host every other week but it is important those that run the game are mindful there exists one crucial difference between everyday business customers and football fans — supporters are the dream consumers the like of which Levi’s, Nike, Coca-Cola et al can only ever dream of attracting. How so? Because football fans are brand loyal for life.

We might change our make of jeans, we may swap logo’s on our trainers, and we might display a placid indifference as to which variety of carbonated soft drink we slurp to quench a raging thirst…but we will not, can not, and absolutely shall not change our allegiance to our chosen football team. Never, ever. In this way, we are unique.

For the famous top ten or so EPL clubs, filling their respective stadia may never pose a problem. But as the chasm between football’s elite appears to widen to — one suspects — an unbridgeable expanse, it is those below them – the smaller teams that finish midtable, at best, endure annual relegation dogfight’s, and/or ping-pong between the top-flight and the Championship, at worse — who may, with the passing of time, come to rue the day the Traditional fan was priced out of the game.

It’s becoming a depressing and all-too-familiar story: There’s a lifelong supporter — we’ll call him, “Freddie Fan” — and he follows a mid-sized club – we’ll call them, “Unfashionable Rovers F.C.”- who have recently secured promotion to the top-flight. When Rovers hike up their prices to reflect their new status, Freddie is faced with an agonising dilemma. Things are a bit tight financially and he’s got a family – as well as Rovers – to support. Plainly, something has got to give. So, what does Freddie do? Well, being a decent sort of bloke, he reluctantly gives up his season ticket and resigns himself to the fact that, henceforth, his football consumption will come via a Sky dish and Five Live.

Why should we be worried about this? Cause and effect: If Freddie Fan Snr cannot justify the expense of attending games at Unfashionable Rovers F.C., he doesn’t go. If Freddie Fan Snr. doesn’t go, he doesn’t take his children, Freddie Jr. & Frederica. If Freddie Jr. & Frederica. don’t go, they will not form an emotional attachment to Unfashionable Rovers F.C. If they don’t form an emotional attachment to Unfashionable Rovers F.C., they won’t follow Unfashionable Rovers F.C. If they don’t follow Unfashionable Rovers F.C, Unfashionable Rovers F.C lose out – not just on two would-have-been supporters, they will lose a fortune in would-have-been ticket sales and club merchandise purchases as well. Money they might sorely need if fate decrees the fortunes of Unfashionable Rovers F.C take a turn for the worse.

Additionally and perhaps the most worrying aspect of this is: if Freddie Jr. & Frederica Fan do take any interest in the beautiful game in later life, logic dictates they are more likely to follow the bigger, richer teams who can more or less guarantee winning silverware, season after season, year after year. Or, in other words, he/she/they are destined to become — as perverse as it may be – fair-weathered, glory hunters.

But how will this development affect the economic dynamics of football in the future? We will only know the answer to that question twenty years from now…

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  1. John Kozul 5 September, 2006
  2. Hugo Steckelmacher 5 September, 2006
  3. John Kozul 6 September, 2006
  4. Tony 8 September, 2006