In WSC 115 we asked you how you felt your club was fairing on and off the pitch and you feel the biggest problems facing the game are. Roger Titford reports the results
So how has football’s boom left the typically cynical and crisis-hardened WSC readership feeling? In the six years we have been conducting these surveys we have never had such upbeat results, but many of you can sense the problems of success (aka too much money) just around the corner. All percentages are based on 720 replies.
Table One shows that more than twice as many readers feel their club is in a stronger position both off and, more surprisingly, on the pitch than five years ago. 35% say they are going to more matches now than in 1991 versus 28% who are going to less.
In part this overall optimism must be down to the impact of Euro 96, which readers judged to be a qualified success. Almost one in three readers went to at least one match in the tournament, even though three quarters thought the prices were too high. 50% thought the tournament “was good but didn’t match the hype” while 29% considered “it was a great event”. Only 2% saw it as “crap and a rip-off all round”.
On the back of these views an overwhelming 83% felt England should bid for the 2006 World Cup Finals, but only 30% felt the new national stadium, which may be on stream by that time, should be at Wembley. 25% wanted it to be in Manchester and 45% somewhere else, usually down the end of their road.
Another source of optimism had to be the money coming into the game from the Sky TV deal. But this is still viewed very much as a mixed blessing and often as storing up problems for the future. Sky are not winning the PR war amongst non-subscribers to their service. Only 34% are in favour of Sky’s deal with the Premiership and that figure closely corresponds with the proportion of readers who subscribe to Sky, 29%. 37% watch matches, presumably on Sky, in the pub but, by the sound of it, don’t enjoy combining two favourite occupations.
When asked what would be the biggest problem facing the English game in the next few seasons, readers were given a completely free choice of answer. Table Two illustrates the most frequent replies and shows how persistent fear of the effects of money are. Every answer touches on money or the power that money can bring.
In particular there are worries about the future for smaller clubs (and that definition seems to include a third of the Premiership!) and the role that big clubs together with television will have. To quote from your comments: “The frightening pace at which TV will dominate. Pay per view will just be the start . . .” “Players’ salaries bankrupting clubs, especially when the Sky bubble bursts.” “Success concentrated on a small elite will have a disillusioning effect. No team could do a ‘Wimbledon’ now.”
This concern about the lack of ‘fairness’ in the game is not new but is becoming more pronounced as half a dozen clubs threaten to depart into a financial stratosphere of their own.
Readers sense the financial dislocation between the paying spectator and the club. The million or more people who ‘support’ Manchester United but never go to Old Trafford will wield more financial clout than the 50,000 who do because of the volume of replica shirts, magazines, and maybe pay-per-view subscriptions, that they buy.
Already we see in the survey more evidence of dissolution of the old bonds of allegiance, largely down to the influence of television and a more mobile population.
Table Three shows interests in foreign leagues which have been exposed on TV here – Italy and most lately Spain – has grown significantly over the past five years. Meanwhile, 55% of readers say they will watch “very few if any” Nationwide League matches on Sky TV.
29% of readers were not born within 20 miles of the town or city where their club plays. And, as Table Four shows, half our readers do not live within a 20-mile catchment area of their club. We wouldn’t suggest the WSC readership is representative of all football fans, but the figure gives an indication of how common non-localized support is becoming, especially among Premiership supporters, two thirds of whom don’t live within ten miles of their club’s ground.
We were also surprised by figures on family loyalty to football clubs. 72% of readers have/had fathers who were interested in football but only 44% support the same team as Dad. However, supporters of Division Two and Three clubs are more likely than the average fan to be following in their father’s footsteps. The family tradition is even weaker amongst siblings. 53% of readers have brothers or sisters interested in football, but only 31% follow the same team. Findings such as these bring into question the long-term effectiveness of the family enclosure. Or maybe it’s just that feuding is more fun.
As a final word, and perhaps an indicator of the future, here are a few words on information sources. Teletext, at 68%, was the second-most-widely-consulted source of club information (after the national press) and the Internet, at 7%, is closing fast on Clubcall at 12%.
Table 1: Optimistic prospects
Compared with five years ago my club is...
Stronger Same Weaker
Chances of playing success 55% 18% 27%
Financial situation 65% 16% 19%
Table 2: biggest problems facing the game
Rich/poor divide, threat to small clubs 43%
Prohibitive ticket prices 23%
Television controlling football 15%
Big clubs monopolizing success 12%
Harmful flow of foreign imports 11%
Commercial greed 10%
Table 3: more interested in football in...
Table 4: distance lived for club’s ground
Less than 5 miles 27%
6-10 miles 12%
11-20 miles 11%
21-30 miles 23%
More than 100 miles 27 %
From WSC 117 November 1996. What was happening this month