One of the strengths of England’s football culture is its geography. England is a relatively small, densely populated country, so you never have to travel far to find a game in one of England’s four professional divisions. As a result, away supporters are a major part of our match day experience. You get away fans in the other major European leagues, but the distances are often prohibitive. Palermo to Turin, for example, is a 2000 mile round trip. Even driving at Italian speeds, that’s going to take a while.
Away games appeal in ways that a home match never can. The away day is like a quest, albeit a very easy one to complete, but a quest all the same. The journey; being in a strange town; and, sampling the local culture (pubs) – they all contribute to making the away game more interesting than the routine of home fixtures. This modest sense of exploration means away days can live long in the memory when home matches have become one continuous blur. I myself have been regaling friends with proud tales of my trip to Grimsby for years (many good friends have been lost due to my tired anecdotes).
But, Grimsby is relevant to this thread, because travelling to support your team is also an opportunity to see towns you wouldn’t have any sane reason to go near otherwise. Follow a football team and see the world! If I hadn’t gone to any away games with Watford, I’d never have set foot in Huddersfield, Peterborough, or Swindon – it really doesn’t bear thinking about. But, there’s a cost to pay for these life enhancing experiences, with travel, food, seventeen gallons of beer, and your match ticket, it all adds up. Which brings us nicely to the issue of Arsenal’s infamous sixty two quidder.
In theory Arsenal should be a great London away day. The stadium is easy to get to, only a couple of stops for Euston and King’s Cross, and there are plenty of pubs nearby. But, if a lot of the fun of going away is in the sense of adventure and the social aspect (i.e. going for a few beers) you can probably have just as much fun at other grounds, apart from Coventry – you can’t have fun at Coventry. This would explain why City fans weren’t massively fussed about paying £62 to see their team at The Emirates. It would be very hard to hand over £62 for a ticket to a domestic fixture that happens every season without feeling like you’d just been horribly duped.
At this point I’d like to insert a quick Simpson’s reference: when Homer swaps the last ever Ribwich for the lease on an Italian man’s car. The man eats it in five seconds and says “I have the buyer’s remorse.” That’s what we’re dealing with here. The Sixty Two pound Arsenal ticket is football’s Ribwich.
The question being debated last week is whether the failure to sell out the away allocation was the start of a trend, or if it was just a one off caused by specific circumstances – it being January and the game being on TV. We’ll have to see, but it’s surprising attendances have remained so high for so long, given the costs involved for fans.
Ticket prices have been rising relentlessly ever since the Premier League was established. To provide some context, in 1992 a ticket for the North Bank at Highbury cost £8; in 2012, a Category A ticket for Arsenal starts at £62 – a mere 775% increase over two decades. I’m no economist, but that feels like it might be just above inflation, just a bit. If earnings had kept pace with Arsenal’s ticket prices since 1992, the average salary would be £90,066! Not bad, eh? My round!
Meanwhile, back in reality, average earnings are £26,500. And, that figure is for the UK as a whole and doesn’t account for the massive disparity between London and the rest of the country. And disparity or not, the cost of living has been going up for everyone recently. The price of food has gone up, gas and electricity bills have gone up, the price of fuel has gone up, train fares have gone up, rents have gone up – basically, everything’s gone up except wages. Good times! With all of this to consider, the longer this recession continues, the more likely it is that fans will refuse to pay the extortionate fees charged by Arsenal.
I don’t often feel obliged to stand up fans of the Premier League’s biggest clubs, but on a matter of principle it seems wrong that they are charged massively inflated prices to see their team everywhere they go. It’s fine for the home team to charge more for their own fans – it’s up to them if they want to pay it. But, the home team is putting the prices up based on the quality of the opposition – if the home side was that good they could charge the same all year round.
There are lots of aspects about modern football I dislike, and fleecing the fans of the big clubs might feel like a way of striking back, but it’s not. It’s a tax on fans that will only damage the away fan culture in English football. There’s no justification for Arsenal to charge travelling fans such offensively high prices, and the more fans that refuse to pay it the better. So, to sum up, for £62, is Arsenal away worth it? No.