You are viewing the content for Wednesday 8 February 2006

Sol-searching over the price of tickets

By Bernard Azulay
THE ARSENAL’S lamentable record on the road this season has resulted in a totally understandable loss of enthusiasm among many travelling fans.

The majority are on the 'Away Match Ticket Scheme', whereby in order to guarantee getting into the most glamorous fixtures in the football calendar, we're forced to commit ourselves to tickets to every single away match.

Whether you want them or not, the tickets turn up in the post and the dosh gets deducted from your credit card.

If it wasn't for the outrageous liberty of having already been taxed for an extortionate £42 for a lousy seat behind the goal, I'm sure there were quite a few Gooners at St Andrews on Saturday who might not have bothered schlepping to Birmingham.

I myself might have wavered, if the game was being shown live on the box. But then I'd feel a bit of an impostor.

The whole point of this column is to try to impart a little flavour from the terraces that can't be found elsewhere and I can hardly take the pulse of the hardcore Gooners from the comfort of my armchair!

As ever the subject of conversation en route turned to outrageous cost of our tickets.

As about the worst culprits in the Premiership, few Gooners will be aggrieved if Steve Bruce's side should be relegated.

Sunderland supporters visiting St Andrews in a couple of weeks will pay £17 less than us for the exact same crappy view and with most clubs grading ticket prices in a similar fashion, it must cost us fans of the high-profile clubs considerably more over the course of an entire season than the majority of supporters.

Despite the fact that it's incredibly unfair, I guess we've grown accustomed to the manner in which Premiership clubs increasingly take the mickey out of the immutable loyalty that makes a mockery of all the usual laws of supply and demand.

Mind you plenty of long-suffering fans stayed away from St Andrews on Saturday.

Even though it wasn't on the box, it was far from a sell-out and the same must've been true elsewhere, as the TV cameras couldn't avoid vast areas of empty seats, almost everywhere except Old Trafford and St James' Park and the expanses of uninhabited terracing evident in the coverage of Serie A and La Liga suggest a similar story on the continent.

Whilst others might not make such a public display, I'm certain many can sympathise with the Boro fan who was so desperate to return his season-ticket to the prospective England manager.

There was a poignant malevolence to his aggressive manner, as this was a perfect example of the sort of passion, that's so obviously missing from McClaren's side.

I conveniently ignore the fact that I can no longer afford my footie addiction.

But hopefully there will soon come a time where no amount of conveniently placed effects mics or strategic camera angles will be able to disguise the fact that more fiscally responsible fans are being forced to stay away in their droves.

Moreover the round-the-clock TV coverage is long past saturation point and since Murdoch's media monopoly became the Premiership's paymaster, it'll only be when the empty stadia start to impact on the viewing figures that clubs might be forced into a fairer pricing policy, having finally plumbed the depths of our previously bottomless pockets.

Even with the aid of my binoculars, I am more than used to being able to see sweet FA at the other end of the ground at away games.

However, our Highbury library only offers a maintenance dose for my addiction and I need to get my regular fix of real footie atmosphere by attending away games so religiously.

At St Andrews I overheard the wife of a couple in the front row complaining about the awful view.

They subsequently moved to some empty seats in front of me and when our new Togolese striker bundled his first ever Arsenal goal into the back of the net, she was cracking up about it costing so much and coming all that way, only to have to wait to see it properly on TV!

Additionally, unlike all the gutted Gooners who didn't bother travelling to Brum, she's amongst an exclusive club of a couple of thousand of us who can say we were present to laud Thierry Henry on the occasion of his landmark 200th goal.

Thankfully, Titi waited until the second half to score his goal and suddenly all our complaints about ticket costs evaporated and the penny finally dropped for this relatively new disciple, as you simply can't put a price on the privilege of witnessing the mesmerising magic of the maestro, almost within touching distance.

Southern fans are notorious for being more fickle than their Northern counterparts and yet whilst we all whinged in private that for his £100k a week, the least Sol Campbell could've done was to turn up and offer the youngsters his support.

Nevertheless following a week's worth of tabloid torture, it warmed the cockles of my heart to hear us running through the entire repertoire of Sol's songs, throughout the game, demonstrating our undiminished support for out centre-back.

It's the same story with Wenger, who's built up such a stock of Gooner goodwill, that unlike other clubs in a similar boat, I can't once recall him or his team being booed during a largely dismal season.

I for one was mighty relieved to see us revert to 4-4-2 away from home and it was a brave move to send out such a young and inexperienced side.

It remains to be seen at the Reebok whether we've really turned the corner, as young Abou Diaby does his best to fill Paddy's sizeable footwear.

The song of the day points to most Arsenal fans' favourite for our prospective upturn in form "Diaby, wohohoho. We signed him from Auxerre, he's every-f**kin-where. Diaby"."

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