By Tony Attwood
The match against Leicester looked pretty dispiriting on Match of the Day, as it sounded on Arsenal TV, so those who broke the boycott and paid their £14.95 didn’t get much for the money.
But despite there being some protest breakers it looks like the protest might have been a success. There are indeed reports in the media of the price coming down. Some are saying £9.95, some £4.95.
Personally I wouldn’t take this up until it does get down to the £4.95 level, which would take it into the region of going to the pub and buying a pint. Although I am not at all sure the price is the issue any more. For this looks like it really might be the very first time in goodness knows how long that fans have made a real impact on the clubs at large.
Of course I know we have liaison with the clubs through the supporters’ associations and I value this. As I have mentioned occasionally I am a member of the committee that runs Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA) – the fans group that does not believe in publicly criticising the board and suggesting that directors are stealing money from the club. Nor do we believe in breaking up or disrupting meetings held by the club for supporters, as some members of the rival supporters group seems to do. We believe in dialogue.
But dialogue cannot happen when the clubs, or some clubs, get together and dictate to fans what can and what can’t be. And that is what has happened with the £14.95 price tag. As a result of our protest, it seems to be 1-0 to the supporters, for the first time in quite a while I think.
However we need to realise the danger of the various new approaches (of which there seems to be a new one every few days) to football as being pushed by Manchester United and Liverpool. They have nothing to do with the good of football as a national institution.
Football has been part of our country’s culture for over 160 years and the sort of proposals that the American billionaires are coming in with shows not only rampant self-interest but also no understanding of England’s sporting and cultural heritage.
(Indeed if you are interested there is an article on the AISA website published on yesterday about the origins of football, and Arsenal’s place in that evolution. Just click on that link and scroll down to “26 October” to read it).
The problem we have is that the difference between the income of the Premier League clubs and the income of the Championship clubs is now so vast that Championship clubs will put themselves into ludicrous debt by taking the gamble of getting into the Premier League for just one year.
Occasionally it works – as it has done with Aston Villa spending something like £300m net over two seasons to get back into the top league, but much of the time it leaves clubs in a dire position. Indeed we have report after report of clubs spending one and a half times their income or even more on salaries alone, as they gamble everything on promotion.
This current situation does not make for a sustainable football pyramid.
Now I know some Arsenal fans don’t care much for the pyramid, especially as this season we have celebrated 100 years in the 1st division – the only club to have come anywhere near achieving that. But just because Arsenal have done it that does not mean we should not care about the League. (The story of our promotion, which sets aside all the myths and lies invented by rival clubs about what happened in 1919, with serious evidence, is published here.)
So what do we do about football and the wild and insane spending that some clubs indulge in, which goes way beyond their income?
The only workable solution I’ve seen is the salary cap – something that works seemingly quite well in all the main sports in America except Major League Baseball.
OK maybe there are other solutions – and if there are that’s fine. My own personal concern is that we do not allow the American owners of clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool take control of the Premier League and run it for their own benefit, maximising profits without any regard either for the heritage of the league or the long term well-being of smaller clubs.
Maybe I feel this way because although I’ve been an Arsenal supporter since childhood, following the family tradition, I’ve lived a lot of my life outside London and so on occasion, I have spent Saturday afternoon supporting the likes of Torquay United, Poole Town, Rusdhen and Diamonds, and now, Corby Town (which of course means I can at least go to games again, since the lower leagues are now open to spectators).
I really do believe we are right to protest about £14.95 a game, but I also think we should protest strongly against the attempts by Liverpool, Man U and other clubs to move us away from the traditions of football, as established in the 19th century and which have by and large kept the game afloat despite the best endeavours of the financial maniacs.
How to save football