Match going supporters appear to be facing an existential threat from the very game they have given up many years and thousands of pounds supporting.
Back in 2017, the Premier League mooted the possibility that a Christmas Eve fixture was a good idea. Rumoured to be Arsenal v Liverpool, and possibly a Chelsea match too, the FSA and all the supporter groups resisted. I was Chair of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust at the time, and we were vociferous in our objections to it.
Of course, the Club were in a bit of a pickle. They could hardly publicly stand against their ‘paymasters’ the Premier League and the Broadcasters, but they were as unhappy about it as we were.
Thankfully, a pushback from the supporters, the media and Steve Atkins, then Chelsea’s Director of Communications, who went above and beyond what he probably should have done, combined to stop the scheduling of a Christmas Eve fixture in its tracks.
The reasons why a Christmas Eve fixture is an abomination should be obvious but are worth re-stating here.
Christmas Eve is a time for families. Many supporters will be focussed on travelling to be with loved ones to settle in for the Christmas festivities. Scheduling a match on Christmas Eve presents them with a very difficult choice – support the Club or the family you love? Of course, many season ticket holders, like Sky, will also already have paid for the game and would be out of pocket if not able to go due to family commitments.
An even bigger issue will be travel. Christmas Eve is a notoriously busy day to travel whether by rail or road. Rail ticket prices usually increase dramatically during the Christmas period; trains are packed, and the schedule shuts down early. Given that a large number of supporters travel to games by train, one can only imagine the additional difficulties in getting to a game and back on Christmas Eve.
It is not only the away supporters who will find it difficult or even impossible getting to and from the game. Given the nature of modern support, home supporters are not just confined to the local neighbourhood of their football club, they too may struggle to get there and back.
But spare a thought too for all of the people who serve the football industry on a match day: The Police; Stewards; Club staff and dare I say it, those in the media. Why should their Christmas plans be ruined to suit the TV schedule?
And yet, 6 years later, the Premier League have done it again and this time it is Chelsea who are directly affected. As in 2017, the FSA and Supporter Trusts have pushed back, but this time to no avail. It’s happening. The Club have generously agreed to provide transport to and from the match. I can understand that it would have been difficult for them to push back publicly against the Premier League, so new are they into that relationship, much as I would have liked them to.
Of course, the real reason why the Premier League are going full steam ahead is that the Broadcasters own the Premier League. They’ve paid for it, and they call the shots. Fair enough. The real message, however, is far more insidious and that message is that football’s TV audience is of far more value and importance than those of us who make the not inconsiderable effort and expense to travel to the matches home and away.
What price the statements from Richard Scudamore and Richard Masters, the previous and incumbent Chairman of the Premier League, saying that supporters in the stadiums are what makes football such a great spectacle and ‘product’ for the game? If we are so crucial to the success in marketing the Premier League throughout the world and the billions it brings in revenue, then why are we treated with contempt time and time again.
Thank you, Richard Masters, you were so keen to get us back after the surreal sterility of pandemic football without the fans and now you treat us like this? You really are the ‘Grinch Who Stole Christmas’.
More evidence that football is now a TV game where match going fans are an inconvenient presence treated with contempt is with the operation of VAR.
Anyone who was at the recent Sp*rs v Chelsea match will concur. With 9 VAR calls during the game, anyone in the stadium was left utterly bewildered as to what on earth was going on.
We’ve paid good money to go and yet we are the last to know what is going on. Meanwhile, the key audience watching it on TV have access to all the pictures and commentary to keep them in the picture. It’s an absolute farce at best and contemptuous disrespect at worst.
And that’s before we even get into the terminal frustration of celebrating a goal wildly only for VAR to intervene. It’s getting to the stage where you dare not celebrate a goal. Goals are what we go for and in particular the rush you get when you celebrate it.
Beyond that the farcical way the incompetent referees and VAR team implement it just adds to the frustration, but of course those of us who were there would not know this until we got home and…watch it on TV!
Let us see the pictures and hear the decision making process. Rugby and cricket manage to do this successfully without the world ending so what have the Premier League got to hide? I think we know the answer to that.
Anyone would think we are not wanted at the stadium. Maybe the future of football is merely TV entertainment, and we have no role to play anymore. Perhaps they will use sound effects and CGI generated supporters and nobody will realise. Given the profanity in most Chelsea songs, I’m sure the Broadcasters would welcome that.
They need to remember that supporters are what makes the game a spectacle for TV. 22 players kicking a football around for 90 minutes in an empty stadium is meaningless. Without fans, football is nothing. Did the Pandemic teach them nothing? Are they so blinded by greed that they cannot see this?
Add to this the difficulty members have in purchasing tickets, not helped by the club inventing more areas to service corporate and hospitality consumers and the very real problem of ticket touting reducing the chance to obtain a legitimate ticket even harder. And on top of this the very real possibility that we will face a massive price rise in season tickets next season, you can see why match going supporters face an existential threat.
I have had several conversations recently among supporters of a similar vintage who are on the verge of giving it all up, having been assailed with all of this contempt, they’ve had enough of it. The game has gone they say. They may be right, or maybe the game has just moved to TV.
If you’re able to go to Wolves away, do anything you can to ruin Sky’s coverage. There are plenty of songs we can sing that might annoy them. Be creative.
Whatever the Premier League throw at us have yourselves a Merry Christmas and thanks for reading my waffle this year.
Up The Chels!
First published in cfcuk fanzine November 2023