This week has once again seen the cost of watching the beautiful game hit the headlines with the release of the BBC’s annual cost of watching football survey. Like last year (and the years before that) the results of the survey simply proved a platform of out-of-touch politicians to bleat about how unfair it was on the average fan and their family whilst not actually having the balls to do something about it. Football clubs on the most part hid in a corner, not prepared to justify the true reasons behind the rise in the whole matchday experience.
The situation wasn’t helped by the comments of rent-a-gob Robbie Savage who added fuel to the flames by saying that “To be completely honest, during my 20-year playing career, I never once thought about how much it was costing fans to go to game”. Why did he think that would be a good thing to say? Why not just keep his mouth shut. Comments like this just make him look even more out of touch. His frequent responses on Radio5Live’s 606 to fans phoning in of “have you played the game?” to try and put down people’s valid opinions have simply added to the irritant factor that he developed as a player. In all of the years I have been watching football I have never found anyone who has a good word about Savage.
The main reaction to the results for the English clubs was to compare it to watching football in Europe. The BBC somehow managed to concoct a figure that 1,000 (an amazingly exact figure) watch Borussia Dortmund at every home game. How on earth do they know that? Having been a relatively regular visitor to the Bundesliga, you rarely hear an English voice. With demand for Dortmund and Bayern Munich far outstripping supply, where these 1,000 tickets come from is still a mystery. Likewise, the mythical sub £100 season tickets are on available to those on a long waiting list. Of course there are some English-based fans who do own season tickets with overseas clubs and make frequent trips overseas, but these are in the minority.
Arsenal came out of the survey poorly, once again, with their cheapest season ticket the most expensive in British football three-times more expensive than Premier League Champions Manchester City. In their AGM, held just 24 hours after the result of the survey were released, the club tried to justify that paying over £1,000 for a season ticket or £97 for a seat was value for money. After all, they did beat Wigan Athletic and Hull City in the FA Cup last season. According to the survey, you can buy a ticket for West Ham for £20. That is correct. For the Leicester City game only. For seven other games in the Premier League this season that same seat would cost between £50 and £60.
Nowadays my viewing pleasure is almost exclusively restricted to the Non-League game…and European matches. But today I would be making a rare excursion in the SkyBet Championship. According to the survey, a trip to watch Brighton & Hove Albion is the most expensive in the whole Football League, and five pounds more than a trip to Upton Park. Exactly. That’s why some of the results of the survey cannot be taken on face value, a comment echoed in the match day programme by CEO Paul Barber. What you cannot fault The Seagulls for though is the imagination they put into their match day catering. For this game we had the choice of a Sausage with Cheezy Beans Pie and a pint of Hobgoblin. Take that Pukka and Fosters!
Every couple of weeks I drive past the monument to the Seagulls on my way to The Dripping Pan. The Amex is one of the best new stadiums built in this country in the last fifty years. A bold statement but one backed up by the views of the fans who flock there every two weeks. In the first season the “sold out” signs were a frequent occurance leading to the club increasing the capacity by adding an additional tier on the East Stand leading to the club having the highest average attendance in the Championship for the last two years. Part of the reason for the growth has been the expectations set on the pitch – two consecutive appearances in the Play-offs have been bitter-sweet rewards for the fans who have experienced the pain of defeat and the subsequent loss of their manager.
The club will have looked on enviously as Leicester City, Burnley, Hull City and especially bitter rivals Crystal Palace move up into the land of milk and honey. With the new TV deal in place for the lucky twenty clubs in the Premier League, The Seagulls acted quickly in the summer to bring in a manager with top league experience, recruiting ex-Bayer Leverkusen manager Sami Hyypiä. Results haven’t so far been stellar, with four draws in their eleven league games so far. Depending on how you look at results, they came into the game against Middlesbrough on a five game unbeaten run, including a win in the League Cup that has taken them into the last sixteen and a game against Spurs, or they had only won once in the last eight. Football, eh!
The visitors also had their eye on the Premier League, having endured the last six seasons in the Championship and dispensed with the services of club legend Tony Mowbray last year, replacing him with Spaniard Aitor Karanka. So far, so good this season as Boro’ arrived in East Sussex just one point of top spot. Had a score draw written all over it.
Brighton & Hove Albion 1 Middlesbrough 2- The Amex – Saturday 18th October 2014
Despite the late, last-gasp rally by The Seagulls they were clearly the second best team on display at The Amex despite what the stats say. Brighton had 62% of the possession and sixteen shots on target yet it Boro’ keeper Konstantopoulos hardly got his gloves dirty as the the visitors defence held firm and threw themselves at everything heading their way.
The visitors, starting the game with just one up front, could have possibly been down to ten men in the first fifteen seconds when George Friend’s “welcome” to Brighton’s Teixeira was late and high. Ref Andy D’Urso (remember him? The stress of refereeing has turned him grey) elected not to play the advantage despite Teixeira’s pass having sent one of his colleagues free on goal. D’Urso adopted the “well, it’s early in the game” rule meaning Friend escaped any censorship at all. Fifteen minutes he finally went in the book after another “robust” challenge. Teixeira would only go on to last half an hour.
The visitors took the lead in the 7th minute when a well-worked move saw Tomlin sweep the ball high into the Seagulls net after Brighton had failed to clear any danger. Whilst Albion huffed and puffed around the edge of the box they lacked the cutting edge that put the Boro goal under pressure. The half-time break couldn’t have come quick enough for Hyypiä, nor by the look of the queue for beer on the concourse the vast majority of the Seagulls fans.Hyypiä made a change at half-time and for the first few minutes they played with some pace, but then in the 52nd minute they were undonw by a Middlesbrough counter-attack and when the ball was played into the danger area Adomah reacted quickest. Although his first effort was well saved down at the near post, he Boro’ forward was on hand to squeeze the rebound home from a tight angle. Two-nil and it appeared game over.
With just ten points separating the promotion from relegation positions in the Championship, teams can move up and down the table quickly and the in-play score saw Middlesbrough heading to the summit whilst Brighton headed towards the League One trap door. Some fans around us high in the West Stand started to vent their frustration and headed for the exits…although in truth they were really going to the bar and would watch the rest of the game on the TV screens. There’s almost 3/4th of the season to play for – plenty of time for things to go right (or wrong).
A late spell of pressure on the Boro’ goal resulted in Greer heading home after a spell of aerial pinball to give Albion hope but even with five added minutes to play they never really looked, or in truth, deserved an equaliser against a very well marshalled Middlesbrough team.
To relate back to the BBC survey – had we had value for money? Absolutely. Whilst the cold, hard stats suggest The Amex is not the cheapest place to visit, it certainly is one of the best in the Football League and certainly a favourite among away fans, especially when they don’t have to work too hard to come away with three points.