Why Football Fans Should Go On Strike – In The Name Of a More Beautiful Game
When the owners of Liverpool tried to raise the price of a ticket from £59 to £77, they proved that football has long grown out of its working class roots
13 Feb 2016
Who created football? Was it England or Scotland or Italy or China, even? It’s a hotly disputed question – but what is not up for discussion is why football was invented. In “Sapiens”, Yuval Noah Harari explains that the game came about entirely as a means of social organisation.
“Evolution did not endow humans with the ability to play football,” he writes in his book about the history of humans.
“True, it produced legs for kicking, elbows for fouling and mouths for cursing, but all that this enables us to do is perhaps practise penalty kicks by ourselves… Human teenagers have no genes for football. They can nevertheless play complete strangers because they have all learned an identical set of ideas about football. These ideas are entirely imaginary, but if everyone shares them, we can all play the game.”
Increasingly, though, it feels that football is not something that everybody can share in, and that we are not all playing the game.
Sure, boys (and girls) can kick a ball around in the park on a Sunday afternoon, but when it comes to the professional side of the sport, we have long known that football has grown out of its working class roots (wherever it is they were actually first planted).
From players earning more in a week than the average person does in a year to this week’s long-overdue battle about exorbitant ticket prices, football increasingly seems to have got too big for its boots. So the owners of Liverpool cockily thought they could shove up the price of a ticket, from £59 to £77, because to them an extra £18 is next to nothing – it’s not even small change lost down the back of their sunken Sloane leather corner sofas.
But they got a taste of the real world when thousands of fans got up and walked out of last weekend’s draw with Sunderland 77 minutes in, as a protest about the hike. The club have now backed down and, in common with Arsenal, Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Norwich and Swansea, frozen season ticket prices for 2016-17.
“The unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters has always been foremost in our minds,” wrote the owners in a backtracking letter. “It represents the heartbeat of this extraordinary football club.”
They are right on that point – because the fans are as important as the players, if not more. Twenty-two men kicking about a ball on some grass is not in itself that interesting – but the fact that people care about it is. That people travel great distances to see those 22 men and make banners supporting some of them is fascinating don’t you think?
Throw in crowds cheering (or jeering) those men kicking the ball, and the ball-kicking becomes something else – it becomes an actual emotional investment. This is why so many football stadiums feel like theatres; it is why touring one empty is a curiously soulless experience, like being surrounded by ghosts.
Take away the fans and Premier League football is nothing. Nobody wants to watch it. People in China and the Middle East aren’t going to tune in for very long to watch some men many thousands of miles away playing in cold, empty stadiums. They want to hear the roars and the chants and feel the emotion. They want to feel what those fans feel, too. Supporters are not just background noise; they are everything. They are not, as the Liverpool owners said, the “heartbeat” of a club. They are a club.
Photo: REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
The symbiotic relationship between athlete and supporter is the same with almost all sports. It’s why this summer’s Zika-ridden Olympics in Rio threaten to be a washout, and why we all got so very cross when soldiers were forced to occupy empty seats that corporate clients hadn’t bothered to turn up to during our London Olympics.
Sport is as much a social activity as it is a physical one. That’s why there is so much money to be made from it – because for so many, a sporting team feels like family. But you exploit that at your peril.
This week, tennis has shown itself yet again to be corrupt while the world of athletics was dealt a blow when Nestle announced it was pulling out of a sponsorship deal with the IAAF over doping scandals. All of this shadiness shows contempt for the fans of both sports, but the people involved at least tried to conceal it from them. What is so galling about ticket pricing in football is that it is so obvious; it’s that the owners haven’t even tried to hide their disdain for the fans.
Well, the Liverpool fans have shown that this is no longer good enough. According to the Football Supporter’s Federation, the revenue from the new £5.1bn TV rights deal means that clubs could afford to let every fan into every home game for free next season and still bring in the same amount of money as the one before.
With this in mind, supporters simply must boycott the game until something is done to bring it back down to earth. The premier league would quickly realise that, if anything, it is the clubs that should be paying the fans and not the other way round.
Even better, perhaps the handsomely remunerated players could go on strike as a way of giving a bit of support back to the people who allow them to live in mock-Gothic mansions with indoor swimming pools. And then, finally, football might once again be a beautiful game.