Wednesday, February 21, 2007

For what shall it profit a team, if they shall gain the whole world, and lose their own soul

The best football in Britain is to be found in the poorest neighbourhoods. That's no accident - the top clubs were often started at the end of the 19th century by organisations in dirt-poor immigrant areas to give the young men something to do.

For example, Bolton Wanderers (5th in the Premiership) was founded in 1874 as Christ Church FC - a church sunday school team. Manchester United (1st in the Premiership) was Newton Heath LYR F.C. in 1878 - the works team of a railway depot.

I live in Wilmslow, Cheshire (average household income 25% above the UK average - £36,600) and my local club, Macclesfield, is not at all on the success vector.

The good schools and the low crime rate more than make up for that, but it does mean I need to commute 30 miles to get my football fix in Bolton, Greater Manchester (average household income 15% below the UK average - £25,000)

The majority of accents in the queue for the excellent half-time pies are local to the area. So I deduce I'm something of an exception and that most fans are locals and have to find the cost of pies, parking and a £500 season-ticket out of that reduced average income. Not to mention away games and the occasional foray into European competition. It takes a rare motivation to choose football over the other essentials in life.

As a result the stadium is rarely full and the management are constantly moaning about it. Finally they've done something and cut the season-ticket prices by 10%. Hopefully, that'll make the difference for a bunch of people between watching the game in the pub and coming along to be a part of the game.

An invitation to see a couple of Manchester United games recently gave me an insight into what happens when you price the local fans out of the stadium.

Old Trafford is a magnificent stadium - over twice the capacity of Bolton's Reebok stadium and much better equipped. But where are the Manchester accents ? And at my end of the ground you watch the game behind a glass screen which dulls the acoustic and you may as well be in the pub for all the emotional connection you get. And the pub is likely to be where you watch Manchester United unless you pay serious money (or blag some corporate hospitality like I did).

Bolton is a football club. Manchester United is showbiz.

It wasn't always so - Manchester United used to be very similar to Bolton. But they priced themselves out of the range of locals. They gained success, but lost their souls.

Hopefully now Bolton Wanderers can find their success without losing the people of Bolton.

1 comment:

Kenny said...

I noticed the reduction in atmosphere at Old Trafford in the late nineties. I'm ashamed to say I haven't been since I came back from the US.

I took Da Missus there in 1997 -- her first taste of football live -- and it bowled her over compared to the atmosphere of US sports. I'd love to have seen her face had I taken her there in the 80s.