Football is a funny old game. I worked for over 20 years stewarding at a club with an exemplary record for fan safety. I saw at first-hand how a club with aspirations to increase their matchday revenue moved from a 38,000 capacity stadium to a state-of-the art 60,000+ capacity which also houses 150 executive boxes. It was a license for Arsenal to print their own money. They developed the Diamond Club concept which to be a part of you need to pay a cool £25,000 per season – for that money you get to sit in very comfortable seats and eat from a menu designed and prepared by acclaimed chef and Gooner Raymond Blanc.
As a steward I was always conscious to give the football fan respect and freedom. Particularly at the Emirates fans are paying top dollar to watch the Gunners and within reason I think fans should be able to offer ‘criticism’ when they believe it is called for. Not only are we seeing the working classes ostracised from the top tier of football due to the rising cost of watching the beautiful game but there is an unhealthy sanitisation taking place in football which de facto pushes the working classes to the periphery. The final insult to fans is the control clubs places on fans on the issue of standing – what is that all about? It is encouraging to see the growing campaign calling for standing to be brought back to English football. Germany has led the way showing it can be done and you only have to look at the brilliant atmosphere generated in the Bundesliga to know that English fans are missing out on a total fan experience.
Once Arsenal moved away from Highbury the dynamic of fan behaviour has changed considerably. The atmosphere is regularly timid. It is not unusual for thousands of fans who have paid for their tickets NOT to turn up to matches. This is absurd, particularly when there are thousands of local boys and girls who would love to go along and cheer on their idols. I have heard many Arsenal fans say that the day we moved to the Emirates was the day we lost our soul. I am not sure I agree completely with that statement as particularly this season the fans have got the place rocking again.
This is not a problem unique to Arsenal. Other clubs are rapidly following suite. There is now so much money in football and the petrol dollar which is unfairly funding at least two clubs in the Premiership is making other clubs play catch up in a race where the winners will always be known before the end of the race.
UEFA head Michel Platini has got it absolutely right on the issue of fair play. Currently there is no fair play in the English Premiership, or other leagues such as the French Ligue 1 and this has to be addressed for the sake of the future of football. Even if this happens the rot which is the class war has well and truly set in and our stands are far too sanitised for my liking. History was all about the working classes attending football and it is very sad that our beautiful game is moving away from this so deliberately to chase the corporate pound.