As we all watched England play Croatia in an empty stadium on Friday, one thing was absolutely clear; football without fans is a vapid, soulless and rather pointless experience.
This should teach everyone, from the FA, to the club owners, to UEFA, to the media who feed English football with huge finances, that this is the reality of football without fans. Worthless.
In turn it should also have illustrated to every single one of us fans who attend games that we are the most important people in football, not the TV companies, not the armchair fans, not the players, not the clubs, not the owners, not the officials.
Without us, clubs and owners are redundant. Gone. Over. We have that much real power. Friday showed us that. I hope it tells everyone at the top of the food chain that in a very real way, we the people, own football. Without us, you have nothing. Without us you don’t have a product to sell. Without us you will go out of business, and quickly.
So let’s never forget this simple fact. Let’s repeat it again: we, the fans, own football. It is correctly called the People’s Game.
Look at that match in Croatia – that’s what football looks like without us. Our power does not lie in what we pay to clubs, our power is our very existence. It is our very presence that matters.
It’s said that fans don’t contribute to the income of a football club through gate receipts the way they once did and so are not as financially important, but this is a very narrow-minded view which fails to take into account that no money would be paid to the clubs from media companies or anyone else without the fans being present. No-one is paying billion pound contracts to broadcast football being played out in silence. So the reality is that actually the fans are responsible for creating the entire revenue of clubs and yet they are consistently treated as second-class citizens who don’t really matter.
But let’s be clear, no-one in football’s hierarchy of money and media doesn’t want you and me and everyone we know to realise this, let alone embrace it as a tool to control them and make them dance to our tune. They are constantly deploying football equivalents of dazzle ships, as well as limitless propaganda, to stop us noticing that actually, we’re in charge and not them. In order to make us grateful to them and not vice versa. To lie to us that the status quo benefits us when it actually oppresses us.
It is often said that we never had a revolution in Britain, unlike in many European countries, because the ruling classes and aristocracy were very good at judging the public mood and were able to tempt enough people with just enough crumbs from their table to keep them believing in the status quo and the system, while simultaneously turning the people against each other to distract them from the real issues at hand. Football is no different.
Fans have been exploited as cash cows by many clubs for many years, have been treated with disrespect at every turn and yet they have still turned up to watch. Ticket prices have gone up and up and up in real terms for two generations and still people go. The corporatisation of top-flight football has been total and wholesale. Owners have tried to change club names, ground names, have taken on board appalling sponsors, and we’re sold dross as though it is gold, and told we should be grateful. We’ve still turned up.
We’re told by the Premier League that 50% of tickets are under £30 as though £30 was cheap when we know that in the 70s and first half of the 80s we would pay, in today’s money, less than £5 to see top-flight football. And what have we got in return for this obscene inflation? Football is no less and no more of an entertainment than it ever was. We have not traded in Geordie Jeans (legendary cheap north-east denim purveyor) for handmade tailoring. It’s still just football, sometimes wonderful, sometimes OK, sometimes awful. When you hear people telling us the Premier League is the best league in the world, year after year after year, that is simply an attempted mind wipe to justify the massive inflation of prices.
We live in a low wage economy, many people have been priced out of the game or simply think it is poor value for money and it’s hard to argue against that. £20 isn’t just plenty, it’s about £15 too much. However, their seats have been taken by others who can afford it, at least for now, and that’s all the club and Premier League cares about. Divide and rule. People turning up keeps everything as it is.
While making individual choices never feels like you’re achieving much because the single person feels small against the behemoth of authority, money and power, Friday’s international showed us just what we have within our grasp. We just need to do the one thing we’ve not done before: stop turning up.
All we need is to agree a way forward and to act collectively. We do not need to be subjected to terrible owners. We do not need to tolerate evil monied corporations buying our community club. We need not put up with oil oligarchs from oppressive regimes. We need not tolerate the prices the club charges for everything from the tickets to the tea. We do not need to put up with anything that we collectively do not want to put up with.
Staying away from your club until the change you want to happen, happens, will work and it will work quickly. It will work because, as we saw all so clearly on Friday, the fans are football. We are the be all and end all. The first and the last. Let us always remember that.