The Social Cleansing of Football and Why Fans Should Challenge It
Football Supporters come from all walks of life from students to managing directors, paramedics to builders, train drivers to architects, children to pensioners. There is often nothing to link a group of football supporters other than their love of the game. Many supporters will attend home and away games, week after week, paying a not inconsiderable amount of money for their ticket and travel on top. Yet despite this, football supporters are increasingly being treated badly by their clubs.
A lot of the complaints I receive from fans amount to a social cleansing of the game. Supporters having their season tickets cancelled for no real reason, clubs banning fans for life for one minor indiscretion, clubs canceling a supporter’s membership due to the behaviour of another member of their family at a football match. Many supporters are reporting to me that they are receiving threatening letters from the Club’s lawyers, in effect telling them that legal action will be brought against them for their behaviour of using social network to make complaints about the Club management, unless they agree in writing not to write anything else on social network or fanzines about the Club.
My social cleansing theory on this is that the game of football was always a working person’s game. Supporting a particular team has been passed down through generations in many families, and it is a game that families attend together. However, in the current scheme of marketing, TV viewing rights, and financial promotion of many teams, the costs of a season ticket for a father and son or daughter pales into insignificance when compared with the corporate costs charged for a box, or particular seats in the Stadium. A box which can seat around 8 fans, and costing between £30000 and £40000 for a season has to be a better option for a club than 8 season tickets which may bring in less than £4000. Add to this that the beer in the box area flows at around £5 a pint, and the catering for a few sausage rolls and a slice of lasagna can run to more than £10 per head, and it is easy to see why the usual season ticket holders or occasional ticket purchasers are no longer favoured by the clubs.
So how does this link in with the fans being hassled by the clubs? Firstly, if fans who are openly criticising their club manage to get a following on social media or fanzines then this can create a movement that the Club can’t control. Clubs are trying to nip this in the bud. Secondly, banners at the ground do not look good for a club when the footage is screened around the World. Clubs are trying to promote this World image that does not accord with fans who are complaining about ticket prices, safe standing, and clubs that are happy to play overseas despite knowing that their players will be subjected to racial abuse or worse.
I have been advising fans on their options on having their membership or season ticket cancelled by a club. I always comment on the fact that supporters will put up with their club treating them badly, and will still go along to the match week after week, but once a season ticket or membership is taken away, that is when a football fan decides to fight. The main reason for this is that while a supporter has a season ticket, the Club has a stick to wield as it can threaten to cancel the season ticket or membership if the supporter continues with their complaint. But until fans start to challenge this overbearing behaviour by the clubs, it will continue and the fans will be the ones to suffer.
Alison Gurden advises and represents on all these issues and all other areas of Football Supporter Law.