The weekend’s FA Cup meeting comes firmly into view this morning. Yesterday’s early team news as expected, confirmed that Francis Coquelin and Tomas Rosicky are available for selection. Whilst they are available, the non-committal phrase “a few weeks” was used for Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla, with no definite timescales placed on their return to training whilst Danny Welbeck is expected back in first team action some time next month.
With a busy month ahead, Coquelin and to a lesser extent, Rosicky, ease the workload of other squad members. It seems the perfect match for Mohammed Elneny to get his Arsenal début as no doubt Arsène rotates the side to allow some to rest, particularly with the visit of Southampton in the Premier League this week.
Away from the FA Cup, ticket prices are once more on the agenda with the AST, under the umbrella of the Football Supporters Federation campaign, writing to Ivan Gazidis for action over ticket prices. It’s long been a thorny issue with Arsenal at times, a convenient lightning rod for the campaign. That has become watered down with the realisation that the club are not unique: all Premier League clubs overcharge for tickets.
Which is a subjective term and not quite as black and white as the phrase suggests. Back when I started to watch football, wooden seats were still widely used. It wasn’t just the substitute who got splinters in his arsenal in those days. Even now, arriving at a stadium to find basic plastic seats is met with some comment; we’ve become spoilt.
However, ticket prices have risen disproportionately and although categorising matches has reduced some prices, there is still much work to do. With the advent of the new broadcasting deals, it’s time for football to give something back to match-going supporters. Something tangible, as well.
The AST has three central aims:
- A freeze on all ticket prices in all categories for the three years of the new tv contract
- New money to be set aside to allocate every club a £1m per season Away Supporter’s Initiative fund, an end to away match categorisation and a cap on away ticket prices
- Price reductions for 18-21-year-old fans – the future generation of supporters
The club has already announced a ticket price freeze for next season, a small step along the way but it isn’t just Arsenal, it is as the AST points out, the game as a whole which has to act.
Football has long had a peculiar relationship with pricing. Back in 1960, footballers earned a maximum wage whilst clubs were obliged by Football League rules to charge a minimum ticket price. Arsenal led the way in the introduction of categorising matches as a means of increasing revenues for certain matches.
I fully appreciate that this isn’t something Arsenal can address on their own and all the while other clubs don’t act, it is unrealistic to expect the club to willingly disadvantage itself. With so much emphasis placed on revenues, turnover and wealth, Arsenal are not going to take action which diminishes the club’s value or ability to compete in the transfer market. If they chose to, of course.
With a high demand for tickets already, Arsenal probably don’t feel the need to do anything at present to make football more affordable for supporters. Winning the title will only increase that demand, obviating any sense of social responsibility on the club’s part.
But this isn’t just about now, this is the future of football. Disillusionment with clubs has, I don’t think, never been higher. The days of someone coming down from the terrace to the turf are long gone; there isn’t a sense that a young player is or ever has been, ‘one of us’.
The closest we’ve got to that in recent seasons was the supposed ‘British core’ which was lauded as the future of the club but what did that mean? Nothing to me. It was the signal of identity being reclaimed, a return to the club’s roots in the heart of the community? Far from it.
Football clubs have move far away from their traditional role and whilst they still do play some role in their local area, it’s a far more global enterprise than it ever has been in the past and that isn’t going to change any time soon. Broadcasters don’t want empty stadia but are content with half full as it means they have more chance to gain subscribers.
As football’s revenues from non-matchday sources increase, opportunities to make going to a match more affordable do so as well. The problem is what is football’s motivation to do so? Players aren’t going to accept wage cuts, neither are agents or executives. The best we can hope for, I fear, is an ongoing price freeze when the incomes of supporters finally catch up to make ticketing more affordable for all.
It’s going to be a long wait.