29 May ~ At Christmas in 2008 I made a 380-mile round trip to see Leicester City against Hereford United. I paid £26 for my ticket and the same for my 18-year-old daughter, who was out of work at the time, for the privilege of watching a game of third-tier football. City also took £12.50 off me just to park the car for three hours. When I got home, I told myself that enough was enough. Now that "proper" football has priced me out of anything approaching regular attendance, I spend the bulk of my spare time following a non-League side home and away in the Blue Square Bet South. I still see my share of top-flight games, however, but never in England.
Generally, €20 (£17) will get you a decent seat at most grounds in mainland Europe. However, a trip to take in the recent Lens v Arles Championnat game in France threw up a fairly startling revelation – that the cost of going to this game was pretty much the same as taking in Dover playing away at Woking or Chelmsford at our regionalised sixth level.
If we Dover fans don't necessarily go along with that oh-so-witty visitors' chant that we're French and we know we are, the trip, designed to scratch the Saturday itch following the conclusion of our season, was surprising on a number of levels. For us, the distance between London and Lens is much of a muchness. If sharing out the cost of a Eurotunnel crossing, diesel and a couple of road tolls cost a little more than a trip to London, such considerations were negated by ample free parking, an absence of a congestion charge and a dual carriage way that took us pretty much straight from the tunnel exit to the Stade Bollaert. A seat behind the goal in a still state-of-the-art stadium that was a World Cup venue in 1998 costs a mere €10. Worryingly, a season ticket is £80 less than what I'm planning to pay to watch Dover Athletic in 2011-12.
Irrespective of the fact that both sides had already been relegated, the entertainment on offer was of a good standard. And if much of it came from a 28,000 crowd keen to express their contempt on a day when neighbours Lille clinched the Championnat title with a 2-2 draw in Paris, the game itself was half decent from a neutral perspective. With a lovely little twist of irony, the game was settled by a goal from a player still on Leicester City's books. If any English fans remember Yann Kermorgant, it will be for the disastrous penalty he took in the Cardiff v Leicester Championship play-off semi-final a year ago. This time, however, Kermorgant was arguably the best player on the pitch and he headed the only goal of game as Arles won on the road for the first, and indeed last, time this season.
It will still be Dover home and away for me next season. But I'll have the odd spare Saturday to fill. On those occasions, rather than going to say, Gillingham or Charlton, it's my bet that I head across or under the water. Having organised holidays around the fixture lists of Europe, I'm in a good position to confirm what most of us already know; that English fans are ripped off to a degree that is unprecedented elsewhere in Europe. Mark Winter