Whilst most Chelsea fans are checking their fixture list for the ‘easy three pointers’ scattered throughout the remaining thirty one BARCLAYS (well, if SAF is doing it…) premier league games left, fans of Newcastle, Wolves and even temporary high fliers W.B.A will be looking for where their next win will come from. The average game-goer spends around eight hundred hours a year following their club; traveling to games, TV and Internet related business all included. Eight hundred hours and for what? To watch their beloved team take a hiding by the fat cats of the marketing and merchandising machine that is the BARCLAYS (sorry, now I can’t stop…) premier league.
With the gap between the BARCLAYS Premier League and The Npower (Now, I’m doing it for anything…) Championship ever increasing even with the implementation this year of an improved parachute payment scheme. (The payments have increased from £32m over two years to £48m over four.) Championship clubs are still struggling to compete anywhere near the standard of the EPL. Whilst Man Utd’s match-day income peaked at £109m in 2009, newly promoted Burnley were struggling to earn only a fifth of that despite doubling their season ticket sales following promotion to the Premiership.
Surely that’s the proof though. Burnley went from 8,000 season ticket holders to 16,000 with the promise of top-flight football. Despite the likelihood of a hiding, Burnley fans travelled week in week out to see some of Europe’s best players (as well as Titus Bramble…) well aware that they would lose far more than they would win. Burnley won 21% of their games, drew 15% and lost 63% (the remainders make up the last 1%).
There would be those that say it’s not worth it. The financial cost, the emotional cost, the cost to marriages up and down the country! Traveling miles to watch the club that you love get beat is surely not what any dignified football fan wants? Add to that the derby games that cost you regional pride and surely it’s better to win more than lose. I was talking to a fan of a lower league football club and he was telling me of the excitement that comes with the lower echelons of the football league. “There’s always somewhere else to go. We went from being a big fish in a small pond to being a small fish in a big pond and it’s exciting. Back to back wins are something to celebrate, never mind promotion!”
For me though, there can be no contest. As a fan you want your club to be playing at the highest level possible, against the best opposition possible, fulfilling and often excelling their expectations. Struggling but still showing that age old cliché of ‘character’. Add to this the rarest of wins and the almost mythical ‘giant-killings’ surely it can’t get better? Do Burnley fans wish they hadn’t watched Robbie Blake hammer in ‘that’ volley but instead had stayed comfortable in the Championship? Or are Blackpool fans bemoaning the travelling costs after their unlikely (or maybe not) victory over Liverpool?
No, because “we’re a group. We’re a team. From the Chairman and Manager and fans on through, we’re a team. We win together, we lose together. We celebrate and we mourn together. And defeats are softened and victories are sweeter because we did them together…”
(Thanks to Alex Thorpe, Paul Maxwell, Iain Macintosh and Aaron Sorkin.)