Uefa advocates avarice in austerity

by Samuel Luckhurst

Working-class and football were once synonymous, now they are as far removed as Arab countries and tranquillity. In England, the Italia ’90, Premier league and Euro ’96 triumvirate gave birth to Soccer AM, the middle-class frequenting football grounds, and rampant commercialism from which the game has advocated rather than renounced.

This sad transition was augmented this week when Uefa announced the 2011 Champions League final ticket prices to universal outcry last week.

The breakdown of the allocation and prices is as follows:

  • “Category three” tickets will cost £150 with an administration fee of £26.
  • The cheapest priced ticket available to supporters of clubs involved is £80.
  • Each club will receive an official allocation of 25,000 tickets.
  • Prices excluding administration fees start at £150, rising to £225 and £300 for better seating in categories two and one, with wheelchair entry costing £80.
  • The cheapest ticket on general sale will fetch £176.

Lucre has long been Uefa’s modus operandi, and the income generated by the final is likely to top £14m – £3m more than last season’s final in Madrid. Scandalously, the administration fee serves only to fleece more £ as opposed to offering a significant purpose for its existence. Or maybe seats will be air conditioned in the heat of the Wembley night?

Then there’s the gut-wrenching fact that 50,000 of an 86,000 capacity – 4,000 seats are redundant due to advertising (how appropriate) – are acquired by genuine supporters. Effectively almost half the attendance is reserved for the prawn sandwich brigade and official representatives who abuse the powers their title allots them.

An avalanche effect, let alone a snowball variety, in the black-market is inevitable, but only the deluded can claim that Uefa and their older sibling Fifa are concerned about desperate supporters caving in to pay demonstrably higher prices. The odious Fifa Vice-President Jack Warner has hitherto been immune from severe punishment despite notoriety and numerous cases of flogging World Cup tickets for six-figure sums.

Quantity not quality is the most succinct description of a contemporary football stadium. Where the makeup of supporters consisted of the loyal, the hardcore and the raucous, it’s now an inflated and plasticised swarm of theatre-goers who are gullible and carefree over the act of spending £4.50 on a burger when they should know better.

Uefa’s director of competitions, Giorgio Marchetti, had the temerity to state that the final was not overpriced yet then paradoxically added that the intention isn’t to “squeeze every single penny out of the market”. Just out of supporters’ pockets in a period of austerity.

A ticket in one section of the Camp Nou for the Champions League final in 1999 cost £12, which was not only generously affordable, it was also sympathetic to supporters who were the victims of swift hikes in travel prices to Barcelona.

In 2008, the Moscow experience became a monetary nightmare when day-trips to the Russian capital soared past the £700 mark for return flights alone – on top of tickets ranging from £67 to £167.

Although host to the wonderful Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow was an outrageous venue not just for its distant geographical location but also because visas would be required on entry. When the latter requirement was rightly waived, Michel Platini haughtily boasted how that because Uefa gave English football supporters this gift, they should behave themselves, choosing to re-emanate a nonentity of an issue.

Rapaciousness is a growing cancer in football, embodied by disloyal footballers, callous owners and hypocritical bigwigs, but Platini, a purported man of supporters is overtaking his own fiscal bête noire in the game.

He claimed that moving the Champions League Final to a Saturday night would allow more children to attend. Presumably, his logic is that children who attend football finals are royal descendants or have a made a money-spinning benefit from paid slave-labour.

Opposed to big-business clubs with sugar daddy bank-rollers and brainchild of the forthcoming financial fair play, his tongue not protruding from within his cheek, he then voted for Qatar – a ludicrous venue for a football tournament and a human rights activist’s nightmare – to host the 2022 World Cup.

Ranting about Platini is an unwanted hobby, and one could occupy time doing so until 2022, but the significance of his hypocrisy is that it will only take an outstandingly spontaneous event to curb his and Uefa’s claims that football is the “people’s game”.

Boycotting is an option that has been chosen by disillusioned football supporters across the professional and non-leagues of England, though good luck persuading a Spurs supporter to save his £300 if they should progress to the Champions League final.

When the Glazer family completed their takeover of Manchester United in 2005 it spawned the breakaway club FC United of Manchester, while others like Daniel Harris, author of On the Road: A Journey through a Season, boycott Old Trafford in favour of away matches. Three years beforehand, Wimbledon’s renaming and relocation to Milton Keynes Dons produced AFC Wimbledon.

Both clubs offer the traditional football experience the thirty-something’s and above grew up with, and are a unique and vital facet of football culture not just in Britain but across the globe. Football nostalgia makes the burliest man weak at the knees, and it can be found within small crowds allowed to stand, sing and swear.

Yet in FC United’s case, they are belittled by the esteemed working-class hero (champagne) socialist Sir Alex Ferguson, which indirectly aids the official football governing bodies’ advocacy of spending big to see the biggest names. Who’ll the masses listen to? Ferguson or rebellious supporters?

It would be satisfying for the final to be contested by unglamorous clubs such as Copenhagen and Shakhtar Donetsk – the remotest of possibilities – for the sheer mockery the money-grabbers at Uefa would be subjected to. It may also test the present and future gall of an organisation directing the world’s most popular sport in the wrong direction.

One of the Frenchman’s protégés, Eric Cantona, gave a timely reflection of the growing prices of tickets that emphasised the changing face of the game.

“What I think is a shame is that people from lower backgrounds can’t afford to go to the stadium anymore. These are the real fans of football. The game is in their blood. Football is not for rich people.” he declared empathetically.

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl – a vocal critic of Fifa and Uefa – recently announced that he was running for the presidency of Fifa in the election to be held on June 1. Simply put, he stated that “it gets kind of old hearing the world soccer fans complain about (Sepp) Blatter without anyone trying to provide an alternative”. Cantona, the rebel with a cause, would surely approve.

In its infancy his idealistic campaign may be, but Wahl deserves backing across the five continents because it would dismantle the Blatter-Platini duet that has waltzed around the football world without addressing the most pressing issues within the sport.

Illogical, inconsiderate policymaking is worsening as the game attracts ill-informed money-grabbers whose spin is an insufficient façade for their desire to make a quick buck. Fifa and Uefa are pandering steadfastly to this kind of personnel, but it’s high time for idealism to conquer realism while football’s soul is still, just about, intact.