There is definitely a culture of complaining in the world of football. Tickets are too expensive. Inconsiderate match scheduling. FIFA corruption. Bad refereeing decisions. Awful punditry. Unnecessarily replacing managers. Not scoring enough goals. Not attacking enough. The list goes on and on. Whatever happens in football, somebody is going to complain about it.
I’m not immune to voicing my own opinion and complaining about things with which I don’t agree. The media choices of which live FA Cup matches to show being a very prominent bugbear of mine, especially when ties between two Premier League sides are chosen ahead of what many would consider to be more in keeping with the romance of the competition.
But two recent high profile complaints by fans of Premier League clubs have caused me to complain about their complaining. First up are Liverpool fans, vociferously annoyed about the latest ticket prices for their new improved stand. On the surface they have a lot of justification for complaining as £77 to watch one football match smacks of profiteering by the club. Liverpool FC have been at pains to show that this is only for a small number of seats at a small number of games and that there have been far many more reduced prices in their latest round of match pricing. Regardless of the merits of the club’s decision, £77 is taking the Michael. Liverpool fans are threatening to walk out at the next home match in the 77th minute in protest of this new price hike.
But let’s take a closer look at this, shall we? The price for the same seat currently stands at £59. I would argue that that in itself is an extortionate amount to pay for one match. It’s possible to get whole season tickets at many non-league clubs for that amount of outlay. But pay it the Liverpool fans do. I haven’t seen fans leaving en masse in the 59th minute to complain about that price. If £59 doesn’t stop you from going to a match then £77 won’t either. My joke about Liverpool FC countering the proposed fan walk out by raising the price to £100 so they could see the whole match is probably too close to reflecting the disdain the club (like so many others) has of their fan base, or customers as the club is prone to call them.
If you don’t like the prices being charged by clubs, then the only protest of meaning is to not buy the ticket. But therein lies the problem, because seemingly there is always going to be someone who will buy the ticket at any price, and the clubs know this to be true. So fans have to literally pay the price to continue watching their team or metaphorically have to pay the price by not going to watch the team they love (and knowing someone else has taken their seat).
I faced this same dilemma many years ago and took the decision to stop being fleeced by my team and started to go and watch affordable football lower down the football pyramid. I still passionately want my team to be successful, but my experience of football has improved exponentially since making the switch. Going to watch football at lower league levels is akin to what it must have been like going to watch football in the past, although crowd sizes are considerably smaller now. You can have an affinity with the players, managers and volunteers in a way you could never have with those at Premier League clubs.
The second set of Premier League fans to complain about an apparent injustice are those of Manchester City. They have taken umbrage against the decision to schedule their FA Cup match against Chelsea at 4.0pm on a Sunday just three days before they are due to compete in a Champions League match in Kiev. Again, on the surface I have a lot of empathy with this complaint as TV FA Cup selections have traditionally ridden roughshod over both the fans’ interests and the competition’s history for years now. But the irony of Manchester City fans complaints is completely lost on them.
Manchester City is a fabulous football club, like so many others with a wonderful history full of successful highs and miserable lows. However, the current incarnation of the club, again like so many others in the Premier League, is one based upon a significant injection of money. Without that money it could be argued that the club would not even be competing in the Champions League. You don’t hear many Manchester City fans complaining about how decisions based upon money have helped them be competitive with the elite, so why should they feel it okay to complain about decisions based upon money that disadvantages them. Make no mistake, the decision to show Chelsea versus Manchester City live on TV is one borne out of maximising revenue only and nothing to do with football or football fans at all.
The horse bolted years ago for fans of Premier League clubs to be able to complain about TV scheduling. No matter what the TV companies do in terms of kick-off times there seems to be little, if any, impact on attendance, particularly for clubs that regularly compete in the Champions League. The TV kick-off times are not deliberately designed to cheese off football fans, but the decisions about those times does not take into consideration the impact that they will have on fans (or the clubs). The decision is based purely and simply on what will maximise viewers, not viewers in the UK mind, but those fans of Premier League sides across the world. And by maximising the worldwide opportunity, the TV company maximises its revenues.
So, like all decisions made in the world of football since 1992, the 4.0pm Sunday kick-off time decision has been made based upon maximising revenue first and foremost. Consideration of the impact on football is nowhere (although there’ll be many people out there trying to justify that some money generating decisions have been made in the best interests of football), and consideration for the ticket-paying fans, if it were possible, is even lower down the decision making hierarchy. If you’ve not complained before now (and actively done something about it like not paying for extortionate tickets) then, I’m afraid, you’ve no grounds to complain about it now.