Friday 7 October 2022

The People’s Game

During the World’s most recent pandemic, when among other things there were no football fans at football grounds during the football, the ever-lucid Alan Shearer suggested that when the fans returned, they should do so to reduced ticket prices, such was the impact they brought to matches, evidenced by their absence. 

At that time, everything seemed possible, that effective positive change was the consolation goal, that our shared experience of the Coronavirus would bring hierarchies and authorities and The People together, all shooting at the same target, aiming for the top corner of transparency and justice and the common good; simply, making things better. Even the Tories were acting like socialists in those befuddling, scary and tragic early days. Division and Hate were under threat as peace and unity marched in. The days of a 24-team Club World Cup were all but over. 

When football fans properly returned to stadiums, beyond the staggered, then abandoned, then staggered again drip-feed return, when full capacity was the norm once more, with vaccines rolled out and, eventually, boosters, equating to a fifth round of injections- no replays - they did so, naturally, as the world returned to its offices and its cynicism and its manipulation like nothing had happened (which in fairness, was actually true for many during lockdown if you shied away from baking your own bread, didn’t have Netflix to complete, or your own home to build a pub in, or kids to home-school), bringing into play the acid test for Shearer’s broadcasted wish. Now the masks were off, would the fans, who’d suddenly been noticed and grieved during the era of canned noise as a viewing setting - “our loyal fans” as Premier League executive Richard Masters pronounced - be respected, treated like adults, even see their newly-gained status of worth reflected in that price of admission?

The general feeling is no, that hasn’t happened, and in some cases quite emphatically; for instance, the actual day of the game between Chelsea and Weat Ham in September wasn’t even known to the public less than a week before it’s eventual kick off. But, as Shearer himself might say these days, there are two sides to every story. You might not be told when the match you’ve paid, still extortionately for, will happen, but you can now purchase Arsenal’s official pre-match shirt for just £55. 

 I was first alerted to the pre-match shirt by email, invited to click on the Arsenal Direct link and see what the big news was. I always have a look at the latest offerings (without ever actually buying anything; when you’ve got the green and blue and white trim replica kit from 82-83 in your house, what else is left?), and was left somewhat flabbergasted by the gall of it. A new level of low had seemed to have been found, yet barely a week later, there someone was, at the Worthing summer parade, dressed in it, a real-life, Part of The Problem mannequin. Shearer will never realise his dreams while these people exist. 

Except I forget, of course. Shearer is happy with how fans are being treated now. Or at least Newcastle United fans. The bad Sports Direct man has gone, and the brave Saudi Arabian murderer is in. He’s shown his trillions, given some of us a different perspective on Eddie Howe and spent some of that money on players who wouldn’t have touched Newcastle with a barge pole before last summer. Geordie fans can dream again, they see Cups, Europe, exciting football. They’ve got their Newcastle back. They’ve also completed Netflix, wetting their pants over the intimately detailed disaster movie Sunderland Til I Die. 

Football fans will only be given serious recognition once they choose to stay away from grounds on the basis that they are viewed as gullible peasants rather than because of the law, and also when they stop buying tactless merchandise, which we are told is now the prevalent source of club income over gate receipts (or online booking). Only when fans are no longer “loyal”, will ticketing and fixture dates go their way. Until then we will remain out of pocket and in Richard Masters’. 


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