Doncaster Rovers fans welcome their team onto the field ahead of the opening game of the season at Southend United's Roots Hall; Rovers would go on to win 3-2

Twenty isn’t plenty in football’s unending banterfication

Twenty-one years ago popular STAND fanzine was established because Doncaster Rovers were teetering on the edge of existence, and our founding editor believed ‘the other fanzines that were around were being too easy on the club’s owners and its plight.’ In short, we were set up to speak up and to speak out against those who didn’t uphold what the game and what our clubs were about.

Under my editorship I endeavoured to maintain that founding ethos, and so popular STAND hasn’t shied away from sticking a head above the parapet on controversial topics. I called out Willie McKay’s ‘experiment’ for the self-centred shitshow it was from the very start; I took the FA to task on their forced demotion of Doncaster Belles from the top flight, hell, one of our writers even suggested Rovers ought to ditch red and white hoops. On each of these topics we expected comebacks and countered arguments, but of all the things we’ve spoken out about, I never expected us to meet counter arguments from fellow fans for suggesting watching football was overpriced. And yet…

Three weeks or so ago we found out that Ipswich Town would be charging away fans £27 for Doncaster Rovers’ upcoming trip there. That’s £27 to watch third tier, League One football. Twenty-seven pounds to watch (as it currently stands) the 47th and 51st best squads of footballers in the country ply their trade. That is not value for money. Not in our book. So we made our point, somewhat tongue in cheek, with a tweet.

I mean, who – apart from Ipswich Town’s Chief Executive – could possibly fail to agree with the sentiment that £27 was too much for third tier football. Turns out, quite a few people.

 

 

 

Given that this will be Rovers’ sixth visit to Portman Road in the last decade suggests that either Sam has selective memory, or so monotonous have been recent seasons for Ipswich that every opposition pretty much blends into one after a while. Hey, having watched Rovers in League One under Darren Ferguson I know the feeling.

There were more replies along this line of thinking though. The idea that their club charging a high price and detering away fans from attending as a result was just another source for ‘bantz’, is a phenomena as depressing as it is sadly inevitable. It’s the same trait that delivers a race to reply to the BBC with memes of Alan Partridge shrugging following a tweet about Bury’s slow demise; or that can be heard in fans’ songs decrying a town for being a shithole when it’s merely as underfunded and abandoned as their own.

But then I guess dickheads are gonna dickhead. Such is online football fandom. But there were many more replies and among them another all too familiar trait; the tribal whataboutery of fans – the Patrick O’Hanrahanrahan approach in which they just shrug, and from behind desperate out-of-depth eyes reiterate something inane to the ends of ‘not liking it, but having to go along with it’.

 

 

 

Yes, we’re doing it, but what about them? It’s the argument, frankly, of cowards – that’s why you hear it so often in modern politics. Deflect your own failing and rather than addressing the issue, desperately point the finger at someone else. Thing is every time you fail to challenge, you’re simply endorsing. You’re complicit in the spiralling cost of football for us, for you, for everyone. You are the fan straight out of the wettest of Richard Scudamore’s dreams.

Thing is, we do call out other teams when they charge what we perceive to be too much. We did it in the Championship when Leeds United and (surprise, surprise) Ipswich Town were charging £37 for fans, and when Sheffield Wednesday decided a local derby in one of the country’s poorest counties should cost £30 (and you’ll see much the same arguments in that piece as you’ll read in this – six years on and frighteningly little has changed). And more recently we’ve questioned the worth of Luton Town’s away end; a ground we love for everything except the experience akin to watching football through a letterbox, whilst being pinned in a knees-to-ears wrestling hold by whoever’s sat behind you.

 

It isn’t hard to call this out and make a stand. To go, actually, this just isn’t worth it. This is taking the piss. Because if you don’t, the club will continue to charge it, and then other clubs will charge it because their fans were charged it, and the only people who lose out in that scenario is us; the fans. Whatever the club, whatever our perception of banter, we lose out.

According to some replies our tweet received, Ipswich have tried to address the high costs last season by seeking out reciprocal deals with other clubs, but they wouldn’t agree to them, so Ipswich kept their prices the same. This, it seemed among replies, was fair enough.

 

I mean maybe I’m underthinking things here, but surely the option to reduce ticket prices rests with Ipswich Town. They can do that. They don’t need it to be reciprocal. Unless I’ve fundamentally misunderstood how football works and the home club actually don’t get a say in setting their own ticket prices. Instead the cost is just arbitrarily attributed to stadia according to the local configuration of lay-lines, the proximity of local schools, and how many trophies the club won three decades ago.

Anyway, another question this throws up is exactly how much is too much when it comes to football? Well, thankfully, like the number of days in a month, and the date of Guy Fawkes finest hour (the one before he got caught) we know this because of a catchy rhyme. ‘Twenty’s plenty’ the Football Supporters Federation told us in January 2013 when they launched their campaign of that name.

Supporters call upon football clubs at all levels of the game to recognise and reward the amazing contribution of away fans by getting together to agree an across the board price cap on away match tickets of £20 (£15 for concessions).

That was the campaign’s mission, and as we can all see, it’s been a roaring success. That is, of course, if you assume that by roaring success I actually mean ‘largely abandoned to pursue other more populist campaigns around things like safe standing’. It’s two years since the FSF (now under the umbrella of the Football Supporters Association) blogged about their Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Last month they tweeted Sheffield Wednesday’s match ticket prices with the hashtag #twentysplenty, but there was no call to action, no update on the campaign. Its purpose as an actual mission with a genuine target seemingly forgotten; instead it’s just become a throwaway thing to tweet; the equivalent of your centre-half saying ‘we go again’ after he’s spent ninety minutes shinning balls into touch during another latest home defeat. It’s as empty as Prime Minister’s promise.

So if the bodies that are supposed to be fighting for our interests won’t seek to make an impact, it’s up to us as fans to do so. To come together over issues that affect all of us. That’s not to mean we need to hold hands for ninety minutes, no come 3pm on Saturday I’ll be wishing everyone seated opposite me an afternoon that brings all the pleasure of a barefoot walk across a lego strewn floor. But when it calls for us to look at the bigger picture, we should be able to forego the bantz, and stop ourselves being fleeced; again and again, just because some prick with an overpriced watch and all the sincerity of a petrol station bouquet has managed to convince your chairman that your third choice left-back is worth £10k a week.

Football is a mess; League One especially. Now of all times we should be coming together to fight it, not gleefully wading into it deeper whilst mocking those we take with us.

by Glen Wilson

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