Manchester City featured heavily in the news this week owing to the attendance for their Champions League tie against AS Roma. Tickets for the game didn’t sell out, prompting Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand to poke fun at City, though it quickly became apparent that their comments were misjudged and touched a collective nerve.
The crux of the issue appears to be ticket prices, judging by the rapid replies of the national press, as well as supporters. The two former Manchester United players received a heart-warming slew of responses highlighting that issue and it is an argument that has continued to run this week.
I don’t intend to go into the finer details of ticket prices because it’s been done brilliantly elsewhere and, frankly, I’m getting a little bored of making myself angry by ranting about it – I’ve done plenty of that this week.
Instead, I want to take a moment in praise of the supporters that did not attend the midweek tie.
The Champions League is sold as the pinnacle of football and many would have you believe it is the be-all-and-end-all. With that in mind, a home tie against a high profile club like AS Roma would seem a highly desirable game to attend.
We know that City have the fan base to fill The Etihad Stadium on a regular basis, as evidenced by the fact that only one Premier League game there last season failed to pull in a full crowd.
So if it’s not a question of willing attendees, then it becomes clear that a good deal of City fans made a very conscious choice and rejected the opportunity to be at this big game. Now, let me be clear – my preference would always be to sit in a full stadium with a great atmosphere. But even with that in mind, I couldn’t help but smile a little bit when it became clear just how many empty seats there were going to be inside The Etihad Stadium on Tuesday.
If the mass of responses to Ferdinand’s ignorant tweets are a good indicator (and the sheer volume of them suggests they are), City fans are fed up of forking out high prices to watch their team. It doesn’t seem a huge leap to assume that fans of other clubs are feeling the same thing. So how do we change it? There is only one feasible way that I can see and that is to stay away.
As long as supporters pour through the gates regardless of cost, football clubs will continue to charge what they can. In fairness, why wouldn’t they? It’s a fairly basic supply and demand issue.
Prices will only drop if attendances do. There is no other way to make the point effectively. In the spirit of being completely open I’ll hold my hands up here – I’m a hypocrite. I attended the Roma game and prices aren’t stopping me going just yet. I pay what the club ask because I can’t bring myself not to. Instead I tut, I shake my head and I write a blog or have a bit of a rant on the Bluemoon Podcast. What real difference am I making? Absolutely none.
So, to those City fans with enough will power to abstain from the Champions League I applaud you and I thank you. It is a direct consequence of you staying away that this debate has once more been forced into the mainstream media. When more of us have your attitude we may see attendances plummet to give us a half-empty stadium. If that happens on a regular basis that will have an impact. I don’t expect it to happen soon, but it may.
Those supporters deserve far more than the scorn of two millionaire footballers using their platform as national superstars to make petty digs at a rival club. They deserve our admiration.
written by Richard Burns