Just a week ago, many Liverpool fans were preparing to walk out early from the club’s game with Sunderland over the imposition of a new pricing structure at Anfield that would see some tickets priced at up to £77.
A week later and the Liverpool fans have won a significant victory, as the club’s owners relented, apologised and reversed their decision.
This was a victory for people power and solidarity. As a socialist, a trade unionist and an Evertonian, I want to pay tribute to them for what they have achieved.
They have put down a marker for fans right across the country. We are fans, not customers. We love our clubs, but that does not give owners the right to take advantage of that loyalty by pricing many of us out of the ground.
The Liverpool fans were not having a go at their club – they were standing up for football fans the length and breadth of the country. It was a matter of principle. I hope that where they are leading, others will now follow.
Of course football clubs have to be run commercially, but the amount of money now swilling around the game means clubs shouldn’t place ever greater burdens on the backs of their fans.
The comparison I draw is with how we run the council. We have lost £330 million in government funding since 2011 – 58 per cent of our total budget. To survive, it means we must first look to every penny we have and ask if it is spent wisely and effectively.
Football needs to do the same. How can clubs do that? I think there are two obvious steps.
The deal agreed last year with Sky TV and BT is worth a staggering £5 billion. First, we need to see a fairer distribution of that income to support smaller clubs that are so important in nurturing home-grown talent.
As a country, we clearly aren’t doing enough to support England teams of the future – a point Greg Dyke from the FA has made before. It’s vital the game supports feeder clubs for the long-term sustainability of English football.
Second, we need a cap on the soaraway salaries of star players. It leads to an inflationary wages spiral, which then requires ever more money from ordinary fans to service the costs. The amounts even fairly average players now command is not only immoral, in my opinion, but creates a cost-structure which will see clubs that have a difficult couple of seasons at risk of going under.
The failure to address costs and to distribute income more fairly is creating not just a premier league, but a ‘premier, premier league’ of clubs whose wealth and spending power blows everyone else out of the water.
In the long term, it will lead to fewer clubs, less choice and even higher prices for fans.
This issue isn’t about whether your scarf is red or blue, it’s simply about safeguarding the future of our clubs for the long-term.