Adam Brown explains why attendances are falling

The empty seats at the FA Cup Semi- Finals and the fiasco – there is no other word for it – of Euro ’96 ticket sales, suggest that our clubs and the FA can’t go much further down the track of hiking up the prices without the embarrassing rows of empty seats becoming a regular feature of our football. Football now is too expensive and in danger of losing touch with reality.

An example of the cavalier attitude of clubs to their supporters can be found in the North East, where for the first time in a generation all three major clubs find themselves in the top division at the same time. But at what cost? Prices have gone through the roof, except at Sunderland where there isn’t one and where they have just floated into the stratosphere – £15 will buy you a place on an open, windswept terrace. Scant regard for loyal support in harsh times.

The situation has so outraged one unemployed Boro fan, Ian Muter, that he has launched a petition calling on the club to ensure that at least some of the seats are set aside for the casual supporter who are unable to buy a season ticket. The prime opportunity for this, he argues, is when the club ‘fill in’ the two missing corners of the Riverside Stadium.

Yet although £300 may get you into your own ground, it isn’t going to let you see your team take on its nearest rivals if the local constabulary have anything to with it. The ban on away fans for the Newcastle-Sunderland derbies is an ominous portent for all fans.

Indeed the situation has got so serious that fans of both clubs have put aside their differences and formed a pressure group – Wear United. The group, which has the backing of local Labour MPs, are in the process of collecting 100,000 signatures in an attempt to change the policy.

If the ban is allowed to stand, how long will it be before every contentious game, from Manchester United v Liverpool to Cardiff v Swansea, is deemed too dangerous and we end up with a situation where the away matchday, one of the features of the English game already battered by reduced capacities, becomes a thing of the past? A lot has been talked about the gentrification of football over the last few years, but this bleaching of inconvenient rivalries is sanitization, pure and simple.

The current trend of spiralling prices and rampant regulation may stop many younger fans, the game’s lifeblood, from becoming regular attenders. The process will end with half-empty grounds at all but the most successful, and football administrators scratching their heads and wondering where the good old days went.

From WSC 115 September 1996. What was happening this month

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