Whether your club is in the Premier League and regularly in Europe, a perennial dweller in Football League Two or further down football’s greasy pole, every team has its own uber-fans – the ultra-loyal, never mind the league position, never mind the weather, hang the expense, regular away fan.
A mate of mine is an Orient fan. About 10 seasons ago they had a pre-season tour to Uganda. He was there. The silver-tongued devil persuaded his wife that his going and taking his eldest son would be a good use of family funds. He hasn’t missed an Orient game home or away (competitive or friendly) in any competition for 11 seasons. The last game he missed was when his wife had the bad taste to go into labour with their youngest son just as he was about to depart for an away game at Scunthorpe United.
Those of us who do away games regularly know that sometimes the trip doesn’t go to plan. I remember being shoved up against a wall by one of Merseyside’s finest after a game at Goodison Park and told that I had two choices – (a) get on the bus that the Babylon had thoughtfully provided direct to Lime Street station or (b) become intimately acquainted with the business end of his truncheon. Normally I wouldn’t have minded, but I’d driven to the game! My car was parked on the other side of Stanley Park by Anfield. Having been forcibly deported from Goodison to Lime Street I had to get a bus back to Anfield to get my car.
European trips aren't all sun, beer and football either. A trip to Turin in 1980 to see Arsenal play Juventus in the second leg of that season’s European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals was just great on the park – we won 1-0 to reach the final. Off the park – not so much. We were attacked post-match. My diabetic mate lost his insulin as we had it away on our dancers to avoid a good shoeing, necessitating a visit to the local infirmary for an emergency resupply.
The travails of away fans can be endless. Chester FC fans attending the recent Wrexham-Chester Conference derby at the Racecourse Ground had to endure what has come to be known as a “bubble” match where the only way for away fans to attend is to travel in a police escorted coach convoy to the game with match tickets dished out on the coaches. This provides endless headaches for “exile” away fans who live a long way from their club.
Particularly in the Premier League and Football League Championship away fans also regularly see games moved to suit the broadcasters, sometimes from the weekend to a Friday or Monday night, usually meaning time off work to get to the game. Games are also moved due to participation of one or both clubs in Thursday night Europa League games or because of pressure from the police.
All too often away fans don’t get the respect they deserve. Ticket prices are in orbit and the cost of travel goes up and up, whether by organised coach, train or car. To be fair, some in the game’s administration have recognised the problem. Stoke City will be laying on free coaches to all away games this season. That’s great but what about exiled fans, or those who simply prefer to travel by car, train or scheduled coach?
That’s why the FSF thinks that the best thing would be to cap away at a maximum of £20. That would reward all away fans, no matter where they live or how they choose to travel. Nobody wants to see away fans become an endangered species. The game wouldn’t be the same without them.
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