A group of Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters are fighting to “take back the game” – and they plan to start with a ten-minute silent protest at Wolves v Sunderland on Sunday. The organisers are asking fans of both sides to join in the silence which is inspired by an identical protest in the Swedish league at a game between AIK and Djurgarden earlier this year (see below).
Those behind the English version are clear that this isn’t an anti-Wolves action against the club’s owners or management. Neither is it a campaign restricted to their club and the organisers have asked Sunderland’s away support to join in. The idea was born on Wolves forum Molineux Mix and is described as a general response “against rising ticket prices, sanitised stadiums and ridiculous kick-off times”.
Take Back The Game say this will act as the official launch of their campaign which they hope will spread to supporters of other clubs. Their four central demands are more affordable tickets, the introduction of safe and affordable standing areas, fairly priced stadium food and retail products, and an end to “the sanitised Americanisation of the people’s game”.
Stone dead silence
Joe Sharples, one of the movement’s organisers, explains more: “Football has changed beyond recognition over the last 20 years and, as time has gone on, supporters are having their loyalty and passion exploited more and more, with ticket prices rising year-on-year. Some tickets have gone up 900 per cent since the Premier League was formed.
“On Sunday Wolves and Sunderland supporters will come together to demonstrate what football would be like without the supporters they are pricing out of games. There will be a ten-minute silence at the start of the game. There will be no clapping players onto the pitch, no singing, no celebrating any goals scored...just stone dead silence.
“The idea is to make people aware of the situation and to engage with fans of all teams to get them thinking about other protests they can stage to make sure our concerns are heard. This is not a protest against Wolves, but one about the way modern football has changed to the detriment of supporters who go home and away.”
Take Back The Game say they understand the mammoth task they face in making the huge splash that the original Swedish protest succeeded in doing. But Joe believes this is only the beginning and argues that their success in highlighting these issues to fellow fans in the Midlands is a start. The campaign has received much local coverage including high-profile appearances on BBC West Midlands and in the Express & Star.
“We know that this campaign could fall flat on its face but that isn’t the point, in the last month or so we have engaged thousands of football supporters who share our frustrations around the cost and sterilisation of modern football. We have also gained the attention of people in the game including the FA, the Premier League, and Wolves - and this is just through the work of a few football fans,” says Joe.
In recent years there have been a number of campaigns which have developed in response to the direction professional football is heading in. As long ago as 2008 the Guardian’s Raphael Honigstein reported on a supporter-led campaign in Germany. “‘Against modern football’ has become the war cry of Germany’s fledgling but increasingly influential Ultra scene. These groups don’t so much fight each other as what they see as the unacceptable commercialisation of the game”.
Only last month the 72 Unite campaign was formed as a grassroots riposte to the Elite Player Performance Plan. The EPPP changes the youth compensation formula and could mean Football League clubs receive lower fees for players under 17. Many fans saw this as evidence of the Premier League’s dominance and power over smaller clubs.
Other more club specific campaigns, groups, protests and boycotts have also sprung up in cities and towns across the country. While they often have superficially different rallying cries, such as ownership issues (think Spirit of Shankly or Green & Gold), debt and supporter solidarity ('Fans Reunited over Argyle troubles'), or ticket prices ('Ticket trouble at the Bridge and Bramall Lane'), the campaigns share common values.
- There are almost certainly more too – email the Football Supporters' Federation if you think there are any others we should know about: firstname.lastname@example.org
These often informal campaigns have evolved independently of one another but at their core is the belief that modern football is obsessed to an unhealthy degree with money, to the detriment of the game’s long-term health and fans’ interests.
In biology the theory of independent bodies developing similar traits - such as legs or wings - is known as convergent evolution. If the same idea keeps cropping up again and again, at different times, in different towns, cities, and even countries, then it’s probably a good idea.
Only yesterday the FSF even received an email from a newly formed fans’ group in Brazil - the Frente Nacional dos Torcedores (FNT) - who are concerned about the way their country’s game is heading. The FNT say they have gathered 11,000 supporters in only one year.
As the chorus of voices continues to grow the leaders in football must listen seriously to the concerns of fans. Football is always eager to remind fans that it is big business. That might be true, but football should also remember that it’s not good business practice to alienate your most loyal and committed “customers”.
Fans wishing to contact Take Back The Game to show support for, or get involved with, Sunday's protest, can do so via Twitter @takebackthegame, the group's Facebook page, or email: email@example.com.