At the beginning of last season, when Sheffield United supporters threatened to boycott their club’s visit to Bolton Wanderers, over 4,000 travelled across the Pennines to watch Chris Wilder’s team at the Macron Stadium.
It was a magnificent sight but, given that exorbitant ticket prices were the source of their angst, also served to underline why many owners, chairmen and chief executives continue to take fans for granted. ‘Mumble a few platitudes, pat them on the head and then charge what we want,’ seems to be the mantra in far too many boardrooms up and down the country. ‘Because, come what may, they’ll still turn up.’
Thirteen months after being faced with that particular dilemma, United followers must wrestle with their consciences again after it emerged they will be charged up to £42 to watch their heroes take on Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough. The first Steel City derby since 2012 is, admittedly, a very big deal. But £42? Come on.
This is not a partisan issue. Wednesdayites without season passes or memberships could, unless they are eligible for a concession, be forced to part with £7 more. On the contrary, it is a matter where those on both sides of the divide can find plenty of common ground. Deliberately twisting the message to claim bias where none exists only serves to undermine the efforts of independent campaigners, the Football Supporters’ Federation included, to make the game affordable for all. It is also worth mentioning, earlier this term at Leeds, Preston North End fans had to stump-up more.
Let us put these prices into context. On the same weekend, Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 September, you could watch all but two of the nine Premier League matches scheduled on the fixture calendar for less. In, for the sake of clarity, the respective home ends. They include Manchester City versus Crystal Palace, where the likes of Sergio Aguero and David Silva could be on display, Everton versus AFC Bournemouth, Southampton versus Manchester United and Chelsea, Alvaro Morata, Eden Hazard and all, at Stoke City. Away fans, thanks to the FSF’s ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ initiative, will be able gain admission for only a shade more than it costs to buy a 12 pack of Peroni lager. Not so in S6 where, according to the latest Government statistics, people are being asked to fork-out nearly 10 per cent of their average weekly earnings to witness something which will last for less than one per cent of the same period.
I have some sympathy with the argument, put forward by many of those tasked with running our clubs, that in order to be the best, folk must pay. But only to a point. If that is the case then owners, who are effectively asking the public to help subsidise their business operation, should refuse to bask in the glory when things go well and invite those on the terraces to hog the limelight instead.
United and Wednesday supporters will flood through the turnstiles in their thousands when one of English football’s greatest games takes place in 16 days time. It will, whatever the final outcome, be one hell of a show. But part of me hopes, just like at Bolton, some stay away to make an important point.