A Bridge too far for the common man
Jose Mourinho this week channelled John Lennon, when he called for the people in Stamford Bridge's cheap seats to clap their hands – and the rest to rattle their jewellery.
November 12th, 2013
Describing the club’s home atmosphere as ‘not hot’, and blaming this on the ‘profile’ of support, he raised an issue talked about by supporters groups for some time – the link between football’s gentrification, and its growing lack of atmosphere.
How did we get to a place where even the team manager started to bark: “You’re supposed to be at home”?
Classically, the Chelsea fan was born aged about 10.
Taken to Stamford Bridge by Dad, with a few spare quid one weekend, this might become a slightly more regular occurrence over seasons – until junior became able to fend for himself.
Going out to work at 16 (or, occasionally, 18 – seldom 21), he would then start to pay his own way – cheap tickets, aimed at attracting the working man.
But the world is a very different place – and some, if not all of that, is down to how football has changed.
For a parent to be able to take their child these days (one of the positives of the modern game is how it has moved on from merely ‘dads’ and ‘sons’), more than a few spare quid is required.
The only place concessions exist at Stamford Bridge is in the East Stand, where you’re looking at £20 to £30 a child – plus up to £70 for the parent tagging along.
So at the earliest age, we already have a form of social-selection (the notion of football being a ‘working-class game’ is now so far in the past, it seems laughable to even mention).
It is not a given that class and atmosphere go hand in hand. Chelsea have long had one of the most socially-diverse crowds: doctors and lawyers standing together with brickies and drivers – creating as much noise at games as each other.
But it is clear that the new fan, higher up the income scale and perhaps without a family match-going culture, is more likely to sit back and expect to be entertained – seeing their match ticket as an addition to their Sky package, or as entry to a tourist attraction.
When the child fan hits 18, the real problems begin.
For the right to vote also heralds the right (and requirement) to pay two to three times as much for your ticket.
There are other, external, factors at play.
Forget everything the Monty Python ‘Four Yorkshiremen’ sketch tells you about the bad-old-days; it has never, in the post-war history of this country, been harder to be 18 to 25 than it is now.
Educational Maintenance Allowance – gone; Housing Benefit – gone; employment for all – gone; the chance of social mobility without paying through the nose for a degree – gone; the chance of home ownership without a wealthy benefactor – gone.
With average London rents presently in the £1,000 to £2,000 a month category (more than most school leavers can even dream of earning – and, unlike wages, rising 10% per year), football is a luxury few young people can afford.
Chelsea’s best atmospheres of recent years – all away from home, of course – are united by a common factor. Leeds, Southampton, Arsenal – all in cup competitions, all with reduced ticket prices, all attracting large numbers of young adults happy to stand (something prohibited at Chelsea), and bellow their lungs out.
The issue of atmosphere will not be an easy one to solve. The problems lie with Chelsea, but also well beyond the boundaries of Stamford Bridge.
This club, and others, need to look at how they can adapt to the realities of the new economy.
Or they need to come to terms with the fact that one of the game’s most valuable assets, its atmosphere, has become a footnote in its history.