By Pete Walker
Friday, November 30, 2012
Frustrated supporters’ groups to voice anger before Saturday’s home game with Swansea
“We’re paying champagne prices for lemonade football,” cries Where Has Our Arsenal Gone co-founder David O’Leary, following a stormy AGM last month.
The campaigner, given the club legend’s name by a family of devoted Gooners, stresses that a £120 ticket at the Emirates is a week’s shopping and laments that some fans ‘are being priced out of football’.
“It’s hard as a fan when you have a family at home and you know the money could be far better spent,” says the 32-year-old father from Suffolk.
Frustrations over ticket prices have urged troubled WHOAG members, joined by other fan groups such as Redaction, to launch a march through Highbury on Saturday before the Gunners’ meeting with Swansea City at the Emirates.
Saturday appears to be a strange choice of game for this demonstration, however, given that it is one of the new ‘Category C’ games, where tickets have been purposefully reduced in price by over 20 per cent on last season. The cheapest adult ticket for Saturday, and for next week’s match with high-flying West Bromwich Albion, stands at a respectable £25.50.
It appears the price drop has been made in vain.
“They certainly didn’t make a big song and dance about it when it was announced,” says O’Leary, who insists the club know the reduction for the ‘lesser’ games is ‘not a big deal’.
The problem for him lies in season ticket holder attendance. Official attendance for Swansea at the Emirates last year was 60,087, which included thousands of season ticket holders who were clearly not at the game.
“Whilst we are all in favour of lowering ticket prices, a Category C game doesn’t really affect everyone. I didn’t see a £10 credit in my season ticket price for this game,” he points out. “The incentive also lies in extra revenue from fans buying food and drink. Someone even mentioned shirt sales; I know that’s a bit cynical.”
Not everyone doubts the club’s intentions. The price reduction has made significant ground to satisfying supporter associations. Tim Payton, of Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, has praised the move.
“It shows the club are listening. We’re happy,” he says, while also encouraging such demonstrations as Saturday’s. “We now just carry on representing fans, keeping ticket prices under control and ensuring we have a successful football club.”
While faced with some daunting prices for Category A and B games at the Emirates, Payton recognises the balancing act the club has to perform. “There are many good things about modern football. Just look at the hospitality at the Emirates,” he adds.
Perhaps the explanation for unrest in north London lies elsewhere. Indeed, since Arsenal’s last trophy in 2005, their record is littered with disappointments. Perhaps it is human nature that fans, in remembering those better days, overlook the positives.
“Prices went up enormously in the last five years at Highbury, but due to fantastic performances, it all went unnoticed,” says Paul Matz, Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association’s advice chairman.
Should WHOAG and co go easier on a board still managing stadium debt? O’Leary suggests that ‘with all the money in the bank’ they could drop all ticket prices by 10-15 per cent, not just the forthcoming games with Swansea and West Brom. “This would be a fantastic gesture to the fans,” he says.
Value for money is also a factor. A Chelsea supporter quizzed on his recent Emirates visit felt that despite splurging £62 to witness his side’s 2-1 win, the amount was justified when compared to a £50 away ticket at QPR.
Following the reduction at Arsenal, QPR’s lowest priced adult ticket is just 50p cheaper; a narrow margin for a relatively new Premier League team who are bottom of the table and whose Loftus Road stadium hardly compares to a trip to the Emirates.
However, while the reduction for the next two home matches appears to have been appreciated by supporters, the move was never going to set the world on fire.
Frustrated Arsenal fans, marching Highbury’s streets and into the shadows of their monolithic stadium on Saturday, will let their dissatisfaction with the board be known, regardless of the ticket price cut on offer for the next two home games.