Don't price teenagers out of football

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Is football losing a generation of fans? Harry Fairman (@HarryFairman) is a 16-year-old Palace fan who's often forced to pay sky high prices to follow his team - £42 at West Ham United. Harry says the game is at risk of losing its young supporters by charging extortionate prices for children still in education.

Football, the working class man’s game; travelling around the country supporting your local team through thick and thin. The pain and the suffering don’t matter, the camaraderie and friendships created through our love for the beautiful game do. One week you could be painfully witnessing a thrashing in Birmingham, but the next celebrating a win in an edgy encounter over Cardiff. The tribal element has encouraged millions of people over the years to spend their hard earned on their clubs. But when does that spending becoming too much?

I often get bored at my dad reminiscing to me about “The Good Old Days”. You could go to the football at the weekend for hardly anything. A match ticket would be about £6 for the Holmesdale Road terrace, and the programme in the 1989/1990 season would have cost you only £1. In today’s money, that should cost £14.76 for an adult to watch a game of football and buy a programme. In reality, it would have ripped a hole of £31.50 in your pocket if you wanted to buy a programme and watch Palace against Southampton in the Holmesdale Lower two weeks ago. That is over double the cost of what inflation dictates.

Now, admittedly I am being pretty harsh on Palace here, when in fact they have some of the cheapest ticket prices in the Premier League, with under 10s even being admitted in for free with a full paying adult. So let’s take one of the biggest clubs in the world as an example: Arsenal. A season ticket would cost you a whopping £985. Yes, you do get some extra cup games included in the deal, but even so watching 24 games would equate to £41 per game. These prices are quite frankly ridiculous. Is this really the working class man’s game?

One main factor which makes football so addictive is watching your team play away. There are not many better things in life than away days, a chance for an army of away supporters to take over various different towns for a day. The sense of belonging that you feel when the players applaud you for being one of only 400 to make the trip up to Blackburn on a cold, wet Tuesday night. You can’t beat it. But these days it is getting more and more expensive. The ticket prices are extortionate - West Ham charge 16-year-olds £42 for a ticket in the away end at Upton Park. Say you were travelling down from Newcastle, add in the cost of train fares and an overnight stay and the trip can cost over £100 a person. The minimum wage in the UK is currently £6.31, and so it would take 16 hours to pay for one football game. And that’s if you have a job. It is compulsory for children to now stay in full time education until they are 18 years old. How on earth is a 17-year-old meant to cover £100 just for one awayday?

The list of expenses related to football goes on: Food, Beers, Programmes, etc. But why has the cost of football increased so much? Obviously nowadays there is a case of demand outstripping supply. The Premier League is a global brand, and everybody wants to go and watch some of the best players in the world like Aaron Wilbraham [Ed's note - Palace striker, 25 league games, no goals] face each other in hotly contested matches. As modern day stadia are all-seater venues, only a limited number of people watch the games each week. However, the main problem comes from Sky. They dictate when they want the games to be played, with absolutely no regard for the fans that actually go week in and week out. Games can be changed as little as four weeks in advance. By that time train prices have absolutely rocketed, meaning that the fans have to make a choice between paying extortionate amounts of money or having to miss the game altogether. As well as this, the money Sky pays has led to greedy owners of football clubs playing into their hands - profiteering at the expense of us smaller and hardworking people.

Perhaps the harshest thing of all is that with only a few changes football can become affordable once gain. Clubs need to realise that students up to the age of 21 deserve larger discounts. With a massive student loan and no job, an expensive season ticket is the last priority for any young fan, meaning that they are getting priced out of the game. Clubs should buy into the Twenty's Plenty scheme for away fans, which aims to cap prices at £20. This will help to offset some of the high travel and accommodation costs, and will once again mean thousands of people will start regularly following their team around the country once again. But the most important thing of all is that clubs should no longer get bullied by the money-grabbing, profiteering corporate giants like Sky. Only then will football once again become a working class man’s game.

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this blog.