Low-income supporters

From the Rage Online newsdesk Friday, November 1st, 1991  

FOOTBALL: The need for recognition of the problems facing low-income supporters.

Over the past few years there has been a noticeable improvement in certain attitudes on the part of many football supporters. This has been reflected in the fanzines (well, most of them) which have mushroomed in this time and, of course, in organisations such as the Football Supporters Association. People are much more conscious of the problems of racism and discriminatory attitudes towards female supporters and players, and towards disabled people. This is, of course, very welcome, but there is one section of the football supporting community whose interests still seem to be rarely represented.

For many people who are welfare benefit claimants or on low wages the emphasis with regard to supporting a football team and generally enjoying the game changes from one of routine, and adapting ones everyday life, to one of budgeting and sacrifice. Away travel becomes an impossibility and every home game attended represents some other pleasure gone without. For many, live football is out of the question and the game has to be experienced second-hand through the media. Everybody complains about rising admission costs, but while these are an inconvenience to most, to the low-paid or unemployed person they are nothing less than an ‘entry prohibited’ sign on the gates of grounds at whose turnstiles many of them will have been handing over money for years.

Leaving aside the mindless ‘What’s it like to have no job?’ chanters, there cannot be a great many football supporters who have absolutely no conception at all, whether through personal experience or that of friends or family, of what it is like not to have enough money for even the simplest of life’s pleasures. Despite the efforts of those with a political axe to grind, sad little personal prejudices to air or squalid newspapers to sell, the unemployed and less well-off are increasingly being recognised as victims of society’s inadequacies, not of their own. The fact that, even according to the government’s own statistics, the number of people living on or below fifty per cent of average income rose from around five million in 1979 to over ten million eight years later suggests that those on low incomes are likely to make up a significant minority of any group in society – including football supporters.

Unfortunately, even in the otherwise very ‘right-on’ fanzines and publications there seems to be a general view of the typical football supporter as being, say, a skilled manual worker, or somebody at a more or less similar income level. A few pints after the game are neither here nor there, and away travel is costly but affordable. The only difficulties involved in going to a midweek match 150 miles away are whether Dave’s car will make it and how to wangle a couple of hours off work, so as to be able to leave on time.

For a lot of people the realities are a little harsher. Five or six quid to get in might mean walking home in the rain rather than getting the bus. The enjoyment return on the investment in a programme may have to be weighed up against that expected from a spot of half-time refreshment (the programme no doubt winning hands down on nutritional grounds). Finances may even dictate much more fundamental decisions – how many people go to non-league games because they are cheaper? While this latter example might not be such bad news for small cubs, the overall situation is not one which benefits football.

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating – as long as those who run the game persist in their view that it is the fivers coming in on the gate (or, more accurately, the credit cards paying for season tickets and boxes) that matter, irrespective of the punters they come from, they will slowly stifle and diminish the essential grass-roots support for football which maintains it in the position of being a major element of popular culture as well as a leading hobby and part of the leisure industry.

What could be done to change all this? Concessions for people on benefit have been used for many years in other forms of entertainment, bringing in extra people (and thus extra money) that would otherwise not have been attracted. There have been examples in football. A few years ago I benefited from the scheme run by United and Oxford City Council whereby people claiming unemployment or similar benefits were able to purchase a half price terrace season ticket for the Manor. Admittedly this was not quite perfect – one still had to raise the money to pay for it at the start of the season – but it was a positive step in the right direction.

Whatever methods might be used to counteract the problems, the first step in many quarters is going to have to be recognition of the situation of the unemployed, claimants and badly paid, and a consensus that these people should have as much right as anyone else to enjoy the great game. A broader view of the backgrounds and circumstances of all football fans, on the part of those who speak on their behalf through supporters’ organisations and publications – and those who listen to them and read their words – would be quite a hefty push in this direction.

George Kirkman

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