There are many winners as English football continues to sell itself out to the highest bidder.
The authorities, who can proudly claim they have the most popular and richest domestic competition on the planet. The clubs, who all get a hearty slice of the jaw-dropping broadcast revenue that’s sloshing around. The players, who get to take home a salary figure so vast it better resembles an international phone number. And the TV executives, who can boast high viewing figures for live coverage.
But there is a regular loser in all this: the humble match-going fan, whose very attendance creates the “product” that is so in demand by broadcasters. In recent days this has been perfectly illustrated once again with the shambles surrounding Arsenal’s upcoming trip to Man City.
Wednesday night’s fixture at the Etihad was only confirmed in the middle of last week, giving travelling supporters less than a week to get time off work, book expensive last minute travel and arrange accommodation – because obviously there are no trains back to London after the game. It’s the latest in an interminably long line of incidents of authorities not giving a solitary sh*t about football supporters’ matchday experience, the crowning glory of which this season has been the way VAR is communicated in stadiums.
So what’s next? With the way the powers that be operate, don’t be surprised if some of the below become reality sooner rather than later…
1. Bin off chanting
The Premier League is so exportable as fans around the world tune in to see packed stadiums with a crackling atmosphere. Alas, such atmospheres are hard to produce when fans have to roll out of bed rather than the pub to make a 12:30pm game, or rush straight from their work desks to their seats in midweek.
How does TV solve this? Tell fans they’re not allowed a sing-song even if they did fancy one in favour of overlaying pre-recorded chants on the live coverage, of course! Viewers are then guaranteed a good atmosphere whilst supporters in the stadium sit in enforced silence. Plus there’s no risk of pesky rude words being broadcast before the watershed. Everyone wins! Well, apart from the fans that actually bother to turn up, of course.
2. Broadcast TV commentary in stadiums
In an effort to make match-going fans feel more “part” of the broadcast experience, the TV commentary could be piped through the stadium speakers in real-time, à la horse racing. Those in attendance would be told it would help them better understand what was going on, particularly during replay-less VAR reviews.
But can you imagine how that would play out? It would be unbearable. We’re pretty certain many people pay £60 for a match ticket just so they don’t have to be subjected to hearing Steve McManaman saying “Fletch” 20 times a minute during live coverage. Wrecking the sanctuary away from such commentary would be unforgivable.
3. Stop safe standing
Rail seating is inching closer and closer to full approval in England’s top flight, with some stadiums installing it already in anticipation of safe standing making a welcome return to football. It’s widely acknowledged that safe standing will greatly enhance the matchday experience for those fans who want to vocally back their team for the full 90 minutes.
So, as this is something that would undeniably improve matchday for certain supporters, it definitely also sounds like something the authorities will put an end to just to spite them.
4. Tourists get priority on away tickets
It is notoriously difficult for many fans to get their hands on coveted away match tickets, of which there are often only 3,000 or so. Fans have to put years of hard graft and patience into building up credits to make them eligible to purchase them, and even then it’s easy to miss out.
But given the importance clubs place on attracting new fans – namely high-spending tourists – giving them priority to buy away tickets ahead of people who are already supporters would be a no-brainer for clubs. Especially when the atmosphere won’t be diminished thanks to pre-recorded chants!
5. Ban booze altogether
Current law dictates that no alcohol can be consumed in stadiums whilst in sight of the pitch, which is designed to stop fans getting too drunk during games. So naturally many fans who are looking for some vocal cord lubrication instead speed drink in concourses before kick-off and during half-time. This can also provide some very welcome respite during mind-numbingly dull games.
Despite most clubs having official beer sponsors, it wouldn’t surprise us in the slightest if booze is eventually banned altogether in favour of “healthier” alternatives. Sadly, however, downing a fruit smoothie at half-time isn’t quite as fun as a crisp 4% lager.
6. Decide the fixture list week by week
As each season passes by, the fixture list seems to become ever more redundant. Dozens of matches are moved every few weeks for TV coverage, and others are moved at short notice to cram in cup replays and the like – often stitching up supporters in the process.
Thus it feels like the next step the all-powerful broadcasters will take will be to ditch the traditional fixture list altogether and instead schedule matches on a weekly basis, based on potential viewing figure algorithms. Armchair fans are much more valuable than those who bother turning up in person, after all.
Don’t you just love modern football?