The Real deal in Bournemouth

Real Madrid’s upcoming visit to Bournemouth has got Lee Wellings thinking about the price fans pay to watch the game

How much would you pay to see Real Madrid play your local team?

And I mean Real Madrid, not Real Madrid’s third team, or youth team?

There has been a great deal of debate, as well as excitement, about the confirmation that the first team will come to play Bournemouth, a club on the English south coast who have reached the Championship, one below the Premier League, for the first time in 23 years.

A great coup for the Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell, he is charging £60 pounds, which is the best part of a $100 dollars. But the price has been criticised by some fans from Bournemouth and beyond, keeping the issue of ticket prices in the spotlight.

I have asked for opinions on this from fans and media alike and most are in agreement with me – as long as he doesn’t overcharge for Championship games against the Burnleys, Boltons and Blackburns this is a special occasion meriting a special price. What a coup it is after all – only the three players that represented Spain in the Confederations Cup aren’t due in Bournemouth on July 21st. There are also concessions, and it’s five pounds less for season ticket holders.

But this predominantly good news story reminds us of the serious issue of how much it costs to watch football, and whether anyone has a RIGHT to follow the team cheaply.

In England the phenomenal success of the Premier League is a double edged sword. Fans of EPL clubs have been able to watch the world’s best players, to see the best teams succeed in Europe, to host a product that is revered the world over.

But that comes at a price. Literally exceeding $75 pounds per game in some cases, an era of the four figure season ticket and where the average age of supporters is my exact age – 41. Far from ideal. Many of these people attended as children, it’s not as easy for young fans to attend now unless they have parents with deep pockets.

There has been increasing disquiet about the price of away tickets, with Liverpool fans amongst the most vocal over being ‘ripped off’. The doomsday scenario being painted is away fans won’t be watching matches at all, destroying the atmosphere that helps make the EPL so special. Chief Executive Richard Scudamore did at least agree to meet the fans and discuss their concerns. It’s not in the league’s interests to be in conflict with supporters.

My issue is with those who totally dismiss a supporter’s right to get in to watch their club. A former boss once told me he had no sympathy with fans of top EPL clubs who can’t afford to watch, actually saying: ‘they wouldn’t expect to see a ballet or rock concert so cheaply’. It was point missing at its most spectacular. The clue about what makes a football club different can often be found in their name.

Take Manchester United for example. Born as Newton Heath, they have been Manchester United for over 100 years, based in, yes Manchester. Thirty years ago working class teenagers could pay a few pounds to get in a watch their local team. A utopia it was not. They were disproportionately white teenage boys, there was more violence, worse facilities, worse football and it was more dangerous.

But please don’t tell me the people of Manchester have less right to watch their team than someone from the other side of the world. No wonder a few thousand deserted them to form FC United of Manchester, a successful non-league side.

Being used as a weapon to beat English football, and indeed leagues the world over, is Germany. You should all know the story of German club football’s rise inside out by now. Around the Munich/Dortmund final the noise of the pro-German fans was understandably reaching a crescendo. Cheap, affordable football serving a fair cross-section of society, fans having a say in clubs, over 70,000 Dortmund fans packing into their stadium, some standing, it’s not a ‘golden ticket’ it’s a ticket you really can get your hands on.

It’s difficult to find a criticism, or nor should we try hard to do so. But perhaps we should wait to see if Bundesliga clubs really do dominate in Europe – and they might – before we declare them unchallenged as the world’s best league. The cream of world football are still heading mainly to the EPL.

There is a familiar problem with paying to watch football in the land of Bournemouth’s opponents. The global financial woes are felt more acutely in Spain than many other European countries. So while La Liga teams are not overcharging, it’s still beyond many of their fans to afford to watch the games.

What about the price of major international football tournaments? The protests and disruptions at the Confederations Cup were nothing to doing ticket prices. Yes of course the more privileged fans could benefit from tickets costing between $60 and $220, depending on the match and seat. The protestors’ frustration was at more serious issues than affordability to watch football – it was over affordability to host it. Those lucky enough to get in were not complaining at the value for money from the tournament action in South America.

Back on England’s south coast on July 21 I’ll be delighted for those who do get to see Bournemouth play one of the biggest clubs in the world, and I hope their exceptionally talented young manager Eddie Howe furthers his reputation. Maybe one day he’ll bring his own Madrid team back to play on the English south coast. He’s only 35 and statistically his record is outstanding.

And for those young fans who haven’t got a ticket, a glimmer of hope. Maybe one or two of the wealthier older fans will realise the match clashes with the last day of the Open golf, the Lord’s Ashes Test and even the Tour de France finale.

Keep reminding them and they might even sell their golden ticket for less than sixty pounds. Though it’s not every day you get to see Real Madrid visit Bournemouth.

This column appears on the website where Lee Wellings represents Al Jazeera.