Monday, February 11, 2008

A Matter of Life and Death?

It is now approaching 19 years since 97 football fans died at a stadium in Sheffield.

The causes of that tragedy, the perimeter and lateral fences, the failure of crowd control both inside and outside the stadium, the corroded crush barriers and the many other causes have been rehashed many times before and are not the point of this post. What is relevant though is that all of them were due to the disgraceful and frankly criminal negligence of South Yorkshire Police and Sheffield Wednesday Football Club. And in turn this was derived from the fact that the Police, Government, Football Association and football clubs treated fans like animals. They were an inconvenience, there only to be relived of their money and then herded in and out of stadiums like cattle. Money wasn’t spent on the fans, on improving their facilities despite them being the life blood of the game. The result was tragedy.

Football changed. It could do nothing else. It had begun already, the fanzine movement had given fans a voice as it started off in the mid 80’s but it was the advent of the premier league that really changed it.

Now let’s fast forward to today and the state of football. Fans are again being treated not as the life blood of football but as a source of revenue, whether its for overly inflated ticket prices, over priced team strips or sky tv subscriptions. And of course because of the tv money the actual paying fans on the turnstiles are invited to rock up and stupid times as well as, for example, being asked for £48 for the cheapest seat at Stamford Bridge. And what is the result? Stadiums aren’t filling up any more, even Chelsea are struggling to do so. It’s not the great exodus that there was in the early 80’s, but the process has started. I’ve been to Villa park when it was only two thirds full and it was eerie. Bolton V Blackburn earlier this year, a local derby between two teams competing to get into Europe had ten thousand empty seats.

Who’s fault this bleeding dry of the fans is is difficult to say. It’s an unholy alliance of sky TV, greedy, and I mean pig fucking greedy players, weak chairmen who can’t say no, greedy chairmen who just want more and people like the Glaziers and Abramovitch who just want a play thing.

What it does mean is that with the fans over here having had enough and not willing or able to pay anymore the clubs are looking elsewhere, and where are they looking? Abroad.

The Premier League is looking to play a 39th game abroad in order to increase the audience for the league. That’s right, sod the fans, forget the unique culture that is part of each individual club, forget their traditional homes, lets play abroad where we can get more money shall we?

Make no mistake, this is not about one game a season (which in itself undermines the concept of the league, where everyone plays each other the same number of times), this will go on. If this is a (financial) success then more and more games will be played elsewhere. It is the start of a very slippery slope and once again the victims will be the fans.

No one will die this time, at least I hope to God no one does, what will die will be football culture as we know it today, where people feel part of their club and the club is part of them. In its place will be a soulless franchise feeding the pockets of the greedy.

And who, even those who have no interest in football, can say that that is a good thing?

No comments: