All Guns Blazing: If ticket prices are freezing Arsenal fans out, where do we go instead?

Arsenal fans show their colours and support in the stands. Picture: Nick Potts/PA

Arsenal fans show their colours and support in the stands. Picture: Nick Potts/PA - Credit: PA WIRE

In our weekly Arsenal fan column, Alex Bellotti suggests the sanctity of match-going is being replaced by passionate fan communities online.

It’s a shameful admission, having been a Gooner for the best part of two decades, that I’m only now reading Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.

There are countless highlights from this autobiographical paean to football fandom – from the Islington novelist’s early ‘70s days in the Schoolboys’ stand at Highbury up to that fateful date at Anfield ‘89 – but in light of a conversation with my sister over the weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a line about ticket prices.

We were discussing whether or not to attend the upcoming home game against Manchester City; to cut a short story shorter, my sister reasonably decided that a price nearing £80 was too much to justify. Hornby’s recollection of 15p tickets in 1970 is a stark enough contrast, but more revealing is the comment that follows: “If I were 20 years younger, I wouldn’t be an Arsenal supporter in 20 years time; it is not possible for most kids to find 10 or 15 quid every other Saturday, and if I had been unable to go regularly in my early teens then it is unlikely that my interest would have sustained.”

Considering this lament was written in 1992, it makes me wonder. As much as corporate greed is pricing ‘ordinary fans’ out of games, how long will it be before the ‘unordinary fans’ are choked out too – the die-hard season ticket holders who provide the lifeblood of unhinged obsession?

Of the handful of ‘away fans’ I know, most are still of the generation that preceded ticket inflation. Match-going for them is ingrained as a matter of habit, whereas from the very beginning even the most passionate young Gunners I know have been forced by circumstance to treat it as a rare privilege. One friend was recently told by Arsenal it would take over 10 years to become a silver member alone.

Yet the reason clubs can get away with this isn’t just because there’s a queue of nonchalant professional types happy to snap up the season tickets instead. It’s also because, contrary to Hornby’s prediction, schoolboy fandom isn’t dying, it’s just migrating. Social media now offers the community which previously only match days could offer; illegal streaming takes care of the games that television misses.

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If passion continues to brew in this fashion, it should come as no surprise to see clubs and commercial powers follow. There’s a sea change occurring and it’s still football, just not as Hornby knew it.

Find Alex on Twitter @alexbellotti