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An article by Villatalk member - Juju

There has been a lot of debate triggered recently by discontent with form, managers decisions, transfers, and attendance of various football forums recently, culminating with a very good post written by "Pilchard" who writes to explain why he won't be going again. He touched briefly on a number of points, to which many replies were received, touching on the changing nature of the relationship between football and those who attend. They got me to thinking, about these relationships.

Before I continue, I think I speak for most who attend home games at Villa Park, that nothing within this article is intended to be critical of the present owners of the club itself, nor indeed are most of my observations "Villa specific".

It is generally recognised that the nature of the Premier league, and specifically the creation of "The Champions League", have brought far more money into top flight football. The creation of satellite coverage in the UK again has meant for large tracts of the past decade, if you wanted access to "the people’s game" it involved subscriptions and payment for extra content.

All seater stadiums are also a change, and with reduced capacity, and ground improvements to pay for. The cost of a ticket is now even at a cheaper premiership club, over five times the minimum wage, and the bigger London clubs, up to a day’s minimum wage. Even though there are discounts for season tickets, they lock you into dependent on the league, 19 games minimum. That’s interest earned by the club on your advance payment.

Footballers earn vast sums of money, and its getting worse even in a recession. Players are leaving top six clubs to lower finishing clubs, typically for reputed double your salary bonanza's, like Barry, Lescott, and the likes of Tevez, leaving arguably the top flight, most successful team, where he is most likely to receive personal targets and achievements, largely for cash. A player can now be worth 80 million pounds, living in huge gated luxury compounds to which they are whisked in Bentleys, Rollers and other ostentatious, displays of wealth.

Typically, the cost of attending a single game is on par with a premium computer game, which should offer a minimum of 40 hours entertainment, or five attendances at premium blockbuster cinema events, at say seven and a half hours entertainment, i.e. five weeks worth if you went every week. The cash drain doesn’t end there - when we consider fuel costs for travel and the lack of/cost of parking, this needs to be factored in too. Most modern cinemas have sufficient parking to cope, and it’s usually free. Can’t say that for most football.

You will also get a big handful of cds or DVDs for this kind of money, which again, dependent on band, director, actors, offer guaranteed entertainment too.

Now, you might very well say that the comparisons are not relevant, that I am not comparing similar products. However, I believe more so than ever, I am, and that football is losing out.

Football, unlike cinemas or computer games, relies, heavily on loyalty of the consumers to fill grounds. You only need to read the forums, and the ideas expressed typically that "if you don’t go, you've no right to moan", and many others like that, including "the team needs your support". Yet compare this to footballers expressed views of footballers, when they have typically advised that "once you’re on the pitch" you ignore the crowd and focus on the game. But it remains a common theme that the paying customers are there to "support the team". Well, when I do a charity bike ride, the people who come out onto the streets to cheer and encourage don’t pay a day’s wages to "cheer me on". Surely it should be the position of the men on the pitch to "lift the crowd" with their silky skills, supposedly worth up to £120k per week. Isn't it reasonable to question the logic of cheering these people on?

So exploring the idea that the crowd are supposed to "lift the team". Well, in a recession, the man on a working wage with two kids, is supposed to encourage a man on the same wages, but payable on a weekly basis, to perform, and if not, there appears little in the way of sanction, where as if you and I perform in a lack lustre way, we don’t get booed for a couple of minutes at the end of the game, we get a written warning and then sacked! Ever seen a footballer sacked? Even Joey Barton is "unsackable", despite his well published repeated misdemeanours. They are simply, not like us.

Footballers, more than ever, seem "untouchable", with nothing in common with the people who pay to be "entertained" by them. They seem exempt from the rules of society and yet still it appears it’s up to us to "support" them.

How much in common with most of the players do you actually have? I must admit, with a sprinkling of local youth, Aston Villa do better than many, with one or two "local" lads. But even so, the idea of "local" now seems to extent to those picked young, who are British, rather than any affinity to "Aston" or other local areas. Certainly the idea that they "represent" you and me is in most cases tenuous, and in the case of Arsenal, simply laughable. They come to ply their trade for big wages near you. A band playing at the NEC doesn't become "local". Indeed, isn’t the idea of following a "local" band, who play music that might be awful ridiculous? So why do we tie ourselves to clubs, and give them blind loyalty which they rely on, to be able to charge such high prices, for unguaranteed "entertainment".

And should we expect "entertainment?" It again is an idea which has been expressed on a number of occasions, that you "follow through thick and thin". Forums also reflect a broad divide of opinion, that you have to be a true "supporter" with high attendance rates and or levels of interest and expenditure. Is this all a con? If I am a fan of Arnie, Hugh Grant, Denzil Washington or whoever, I don't get "abused" or told my onion is worthless because I didn't go to the "latest film" if I didn’t fancy it.

The nature of football has changed. Some respected posters suggest football is no longer working class, and that this died with coverage on the telly from euro 96, seating, and that the atmosphere is much diminished. I would suggest that the "working class" is in 2009 a tenuous label. Most manufacturing going on in UKPLC these days will be specialist, bespoke, and performed by skilled experts. Manufacturing is no longer "working class"- even many those who worked at the likes of Rover (an example of the lack of manufacturing in the UK in 2009) would be well paid, and consider themselves middle class by aspiration, with private houses, car ownership, and foreign holidays.

It also has to be said, that as an occasional attendee since the very early 80's, I like the idea that I no longer get "locked in" after the final whistle, or need to be "escorted" to and from station/ground with police horses, or that I have to hide my regalia on the way to the ground. Indeed, it is usually possible to get into the wrong end without adverse comment, at grounds these days. Football is far less threatening, and I have seen very little trouble or violence in the last decade or longer. I like that. I don't want fear to be part of my contract of "support".

I therefore propose that followers of football, in 2009, are far more "consumers" than "blindly loyal fans” and that in a recession, clubs cannot continue to apply "loyalty" models in considering their ticket sales, and future spending plans. If the entertainment is poor, and the overpaid fancy Dans on the pitch, (who mean nothing to us like they did in the days of "Shoot" or "Match" magazine of the 70's where their favourite food was steak and they drove Ford Cortinas) can’t be bothered to put in a days work on emplyment terms we only dream of, why should we turn up?

I don’t actually mind being thought of as a "consumer". Indeed, I think the clubs need to think of us all as "consumers" rather than "fans". It’s the only way it will change. Money talks like it never has before. Blind loyalty is no basis to sell insurance, so why is football different? (Well, if you want to become a DIRECTLINE fan, I'll send you a phone on wheels). I don't care if you don’t think I am a proper or true supporter. I want value for money, entertainment (even if we lose) and not to be treated like a moron with a blank chequebook by football. No other entertainment industry gets away with what football gets away with. There’s nothing wrong with being an occasional fan, a lapsed fan, or whatever label you put on it.

Its not winning or losing that makes most of us unhappy, we all accept that comes with any sporting event, or even being out thought on tactics by a clever manager from time to time, but the basic "unfairness" of the money now in football, and the impossibility to compete, the high cost of attendance that cheeses us off. Along with untouchable players who don’t seem to put the effort in, to provide us with "entertainment", its fair to suggest that fans are now "unhappier" with the status quo than any time in the last 120 years.

The present doldrums of Aston Villa simply reflect a more dynamic profile of follower, i.e. a consumer that for a large cash payment, expects the other side of the bargain to be met, but which so often isn’t. No threats here, but like Pilchard suggested, at the cost and basic unfairness, Football has stopped becoming "fun". And that is why I shall probably not attend many games this season.

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I do not have the luxury of choice to decide whether to become a level headed consumer who carefully weighs up the pros and cons of buying a ticket to watch the Villa.

I am a Villa fan, I have to be there, I have to buy the shirt, and win lose or draw I can't and wont stay away! It is simply not an option to someone who spends many hours a week focussed (obsessing?) on AVFC.

You make a cogent argument for all that is wrong with the game we love, but none of the above will stop me being there for Villa. They need me and I need them, that's what being a fan is all about.

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I guess a lot of this is true in the socio-economic climate and the populous dynamic in which we now exist. There is no time for stoics and life is far too short to be arguing amongst ourselves - surely Newcastle teach us all that...

But be clear all who will criticise the OP as tawdry politicking, I am a season ticket holder and while I can AFFORD to keep it, I will, come rain, shine, snow, signings, no-signings, Europe, no-Europe etc etc - even League 2... I have to say however that I do have other interests (and responsibilities) that have to be juggled more and more as prices rise, salaries stay static and jobs get lost (though oddly, football continues to rake and rake in the dough - more so the higher up the tree you go - or the more ethnically diverse you cast your greed-magnet).

My responsibilities are...

My wife and daughter.

My interests are...

Airshows (Kemble, Waddington, Flying Legends, FAIRFORD etc) - admittedly a Summer interest.

Music - I attend a range of musical events from fireworks displays, pop/rock music concerts and classical proms.

Model Railways - probably my single biggest financial outlay after my family. That is a hobby where money (if I save) can be spent at the rate of £400 for a kit.

And the list goes on...

My point is that I go to football because I enjoy going and feeling the atmosphere. I enjoy the atmos at away games too. If I don't enjoy it (like DOL's last season) I have the right to walk away and look for games on the TV or just look out for the results and 'read all about it.' To be fair, I went to Hull away in the FA Cup that season. I don't go to football as part of a life or death religion. Heck - after the Stoke game and the Wigan game I might have set myself alight or cut my head off.

It isn't the only thing going on with my life and I don't have an endless bank account. In my short life, I have the right (yes, as a consumer) to go where I get most enjoyment. And despite 2009 so far, I still enjoy it.

After booing at Stoke last season, I remained apathetic until the Hull game where I re-found my voice and chanelled it in the positive direction. I remained vocal against Wigan on opening day - more aggrevated at the ref than anything - and no, I didn't boo. I couldn't be bothered with that as the players seemingly did not try for me. That is a point that the OP makes quite eloquently.

There may come a time when I walk away - but heck, this is far from it. A return of DOL (**nt) or Conference Premier Football would probably see to that (I sometimes go with my old chap to see Nuneaton Town).

I'll be there on Iraq Goals tonight with my prayer mat out - actually no prayer mat as I am not an extremist football fan. I'll be watching and hoping and I'll be there on Thursday too.

I'm frustrated, but far from chucking it in. It is currently providing me with an avenue to let off steam (at the ref and oppo foulage) instead of kicking a wall... Vivre la difference...

And one more word - plethora.

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Great article.

Coming from the US, it has to be said that US sport has largely moved in that direction. It has its benefits and its drawbacks.

Because US sports enterprises view themselves as providing entertainment to consumers (for example, the E in ESPN stands for "Entertainment", though that's actually because they wanted to have an exit strategy if the 24-hour sports idea didn't pan out), they've much less reverence for the past, for the ways that things were done in decades past. Rules get tweaked regularly to ensure that the fans are getting their money or time's worth. A player like Joey Barton would have had numerous suspensions under "personal conduct policies". Because having the same four clubs finish atop the table year after year is generally bad for the entertainment value of the league, there's general agreement on wage caps, drafts, more equitable revenue sharing, and restrictions on how transfers can be done.

But these same impulses make it more acceptable for clubs to move across the continent, and for clubs to totally price out their traditional support (how many people in the Bronx or even fairly large sections of Westchester County can afford to go to more than a few Yankee games at the House that Greed Built?). The atmosphere at many American sporting events is antiseptic because a distressingly large percentage of the bums in seats belong to business clients who are only there to be lubricated with drink to try and get them to open the checkbook. Then again, the total selling of the soul to television means that the best seat in the house is quite likely either in your house or perhaps the local public house, not Section 122, Row Q, Seat 14. It means all manner of distractions, moreso in the stadium (nubile maidens firing t-shirts into the crowd with a cannon? canned music at every opportunity!), but also on TV (live statistics from every other game in every sport going on, so that you know at any moment that you're positively raping Melvin from Accounting in the office fantasy league? inane trivia quizzes peripherally related to the current game?). A general lack of community thanks to the regional franchise setup: I'm not a huge poster/reader of Sons of Sam Horn, but I don't get the impression that that forum has even half the IRL meetups that we have on VT: because most everybody in New England is a Red Sox fan, there perversely is less shared memory because it's not a subculture, it's a superculture, a largely undifferentiated mass of humanity.

The question is whether football can take on the good without being tainted by much of the bad of its new model (and I somewhat firmly believe that the football authorities, in looking at how commercially successful the US leagues are in sports that have somewhat minimal global standing, ask themselves "Why can't we be like that?"... and I think that owners like Randy, and the Glazers, and others are actively in favor (perhaps to varying degrees) of taking football in that direction).

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