Friday, 21 October 2016

Football Addicts

Earlier this week a story ran on many websites about a young Celtic supporter who rang his beloved club to apologise for not having watched their match at the weekend. Five year old Louis Kayes had missed their game against Motherwell due to a clash with his friend's birthday party, and felt he needed to explain his absence to the club.

The story followed hot on the heels of the story of Giacomo Marshall, an eight year old Fulham fan who had written a letter to midfielder Tom Cairney to tell him what he liked about him and to give him his £3 pocket money.

Whilst both stories initially tug on the heart strings, what do the actions of these boys say about our relationship with the football clubs we love? Do our teams actually warrant such devotion? Football clubs are almost unique businesses in the sense that they have a completely captive audience. You can change your supermarket; you can't change your football club. Protests have been seen regularly within grounds in recent years, but protests rarely become boycotts. With shirt prices and ticket costs rocketing (the 2015 Price of Football survey found the average Premier League shirt to cost £49 and adult matchday tickets ranging between £22 and £97), are they abusing the love of their supporters?

There are of course exceptions. West Ham reduced the cost of their season tickets when the Premier League announced its most recent TV deal, and some other clubs froze their prices, and clubs are often good at one-off gestures in response to events, such as laying on free coach travel for rearranged matches, one example being Bournemouth after their match at Old Trafford last season had been cancelled following a bomb scare. Tom Cairney visited his young fan for a kick-about and to give him some gifts, and some Man Utd players visited a fan on his deathbed earlier this year to make his dying wish come true, but aside from these one-offs, do clubs really care?

Just this week Premier League clubs were warned that they need to do more to improve access for disabled supporters, with 17 of the 20 clubs failing to provide enough wheelchair spaces and many complaining that where spaces are available the views are often poor or away fans are expected to sit with home fans. Also this week came the news that the Swansea City Supporters Trust is considering legal action for not having been properly consulted prior to the club's sale to American investors earlier this year. Perhaps these stories are systematic of the general view clubs have of supporters, that their needs come way down the pecking order when it comes to running their clubs.

But despite all of this, we can't walk away from our teams, and ultimately, they know that. So although it's heart-warming to hear of youngsters making the effort to engage with their clubs, it also shows that the supply of football addicts remains strong, and they're getting hooked at a very young age.