As Premier League neutrals we are getting giddy about the new season for lots of reasons - here are five for each title contender. Firmino. Coquelin. Ozil. Rooney, SAS. Aroused now...
Rio is far from the finished article, but there is no doubt that he is intended for punditry stardom. Once you try and forget that awful 'merked' business, he's earned his shot...
STAND: Against Modern Football is a new fanzine aimed at bringing back the elements of the game that we all used to love. Written by the fans, for the fans, Stand AMF represents British football fans who are sick of the modern game and are willing to do something about it.
It's not news that the price of tickets to Premier League games in this country is scandalous. So I've been mulling over for some time a realistic way to put a halt to the spiralling prices before it is genuinely too late and we are left with a generation of match-going fans who are totally foreign (often literally) to the football culture that you and I have grown up with.
I'd obviously love to see Premier League football become more affordable to all fans, both home and away, but I don't think it's particularly realistic to expect that to happen overnight before the other issues which are driving those prices up are addressed. The one thing that I've seen suggested and long-thought is a decent and realistic start is the introduction of a capped price for away fans across the board. Without getting into the minutiae of the financial side of matters (because I'm sh*t at maths) my basic thinking is as follows.
Away prices can be capped at no more than £xx (with excellent concessions) for all Premier League games. This results in more full away ends and much improved atmospheres whilst giving fans who currently can't afford to go away regularly (or at all) the chance to do so. The club owners can be placated by the fact that over the season more away tickets are likely to be sold, potentially meaning that the overall income from away ticket sales is not impacted on detrimentally. That makes sense doesn't it?
Let's use my club Manchester City as an example. On the first day of the season we played Southampton and tickets in the away end were a scandalously high £52. This resulted in the end being approximately 1/3 empty and I don't blame those that didn't make the journey one bit. The economy is still on its arse, people are struggling for money, fuel costs are ridiculous, the cost of train travel is an absolute joke and Southampton is a bloody long way away. That's before you even consider making a proper day out of it and having a few pints. So all in all you are looking at a very expensive day out - ON A F*CKING SUNDAY AS WELL!!
So, with an article for Stand AMF in mind, I floated the idea of a capped away ticket price on Twitter. I suggested £30 for no other reason that, in this day and age, it doesn't seem that bad for the 'bigger' matches. Although I got a very enthusiastic response with more or less everyone agreeing it was a good idea (in principle) and £30 did seem to strike a chord, many people said that they would like to see the prices even lower and loads stressed that, whilst this would be a start, prices need to come down for home fans as well. All in all, it seemed a goer. At present, Premier League rules stipulate that away ticket prices must be comparable in price to similar seats for home fans. This would have to be amended but I don't envisage that to be a massive hurdle to overcome if push comes to shove.
Following your team away from home is the greatest buzz you get as a supporter. Even now there's a certain feeling of trepidation that you are stepping into the unknown, coupled with those butterflies you get from knowing you can go into someone else's backyard uninvited and ruin their day with a victory or last gasp equaliser. Admittedly, such trips were somewhat more dangerous in the past. But the away day should still be the last bastion of the die-hard, clued-up fan. I know Chelsea are seen by many as the enemy of modern football but I remember, as a 13 year old, being in absolute awe of the away following they brought to Maine Road in March 1989. Those of a certain vintage will remember that there was a period when away fans got the whole of the Platt Lane end and this day Chelsea filled it comfortably with, what looked like, a load of 30-50 year old well-dressed men. I don't think I saw a single woman or child with them all day. I think the best comparison is a more colourfully dressed (loved a pink polo shirt did Chelsea in those days) version of that Napoli end at Stamford Bridge last season.
Whilst not advocating making away ends women-free zones, that Napoli following is what I want from an away end. I want it to look moody, I want it to go absolutely mental when they score and I want abusive chants and tension between the home and away fans. I appreciate that this is a bit of a sensitive topic at the moment but there is a real problem that by highlighting certain chants that do overstep the mark, all chants that aren't too complimentary about a club's fiercest rivals are frowned upon thus further sanitising an already depressingly sanitised game.
I'm sensitive to this because there seems to be increasing pressure, largely from the powers that be and internet nerds and bloggers who have never stepped foot in a football ground, for all fans to be nicey nicey with each other at the match, "Why can't you be more like those rugby fans who sit next to each other?" F*CK OFF!! I can't think of anything worse than making small talk with a fan from another Town or City and applauding politely as his team takes my team apart. Balls to that idea.
I love the away end - it is one of the first things that attracted me to football. When I went to Maine Road for the first time I spent half the match transfixed by the goings on between the lads in the Kippax and the opposing fans just a couple of metres away in the pen next to them. It was something I'd never seen before and, depressingly, it's something I'll never see again.
What's this got to do with away ticket prices? Well the higher the price the older and more middle-class the away fan demographic becomes. This may seem trivial to some but the best songs are devised on the alcohol-fuelled trains and coaches to away games and the well-off married couple driving to the match with their children, whilst they have every right to be at the match, will only chip in with the occasional verse of some God-awful Sloop John B variant.
I want the teenagers and early twenty-somethings to be able to afford a ticket because, although they can be a nuisance at times, they're the ones going on the trains and coaches getting wellied and actually creating an atmosphere. Bands don't create an atmosphere at football - they create a noise - people create an atmosphere, and it's no coincidence that as the prices continue to go up, the atmospheres continue to deteriorate.
I know it's never going to be the same as it once was - but that's no reason to stop it getting worse.