Football clubs freezing out children

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT'S Football Task Force is to investigate ticket pricing for children at Premier League grounds, it has emerged.

The announcement follows inquiries by The Independent after allegations that the clubs are driving children away by limiting cut-price tickets. Instead they have to buy full-price adult tickets.

The clubs are also refusing to grant concessions to young visiting supporters. Six of the 20 Premiership clubs do not offer any reductions to away supporters, increasing fears that the game has become prohibitively expensive for young fans who want to support their team home and away.

Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Manchester United, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur now charge children in away-support areas the same price as adults - between pounds 16 and pounds 23 - to watch their teams.

Many other clubs operate a tit-for-tat policy whereby concessions are only available to opposing supporters if their clubs offer reductions.

Football supporters' groups claim that the clubs are intent on maximising revenues and not helping their fans

The Task Force is already investigating the commercialisation of the sport, which was highlighted again last week in a report by accountants Deloitte Touche. The Task Force said that it will now include inquiries into the cost and availability of tickets for children in its research. It has asked The Independent to pass on its findings.

David Mellor, the Task Force's chairman, said: "It's in everbody's interest that we start thinking now about the next generation of fans and where they will come from.

"Football has improved in many ways in recent years but one of the prices of that success is that tickets are more scarce. Also, the cost of attending matches may be scaring some younger people away from football."

Mr Mellor added: "Television has opened the game up to a wider audience but there is no substitute for being there. If young people do not get into the habit of going on a Saturday, there is no guarantee that they will start when they get older.

"Most fans get hooked by going to matches when they are young. That was certainly true for my generation but now it is not as easy for young people to get into top-flight games."

The Task Force has found that the cost of children's tickets is one of the biggest gripes among fans across the country.

A spokesman said: "In all our regional meetings it has been one of the main issues which has cropped up. Parents often say that they can't afford to take their kids or that the whole day out has become too expensive."

It is difficult to compile accurate figures for the cost and availability of tickets, as most clubs are reluctant to release the data.

Sheila Spiers of the Football Supporters' Association agreed that ticket pricing by the top clubs could have a damaging long-term effect on support.

She said: "The Premier League is not interested in youngsters. It is interested in middle-income and high-income supporters. It is not interested in the new generation of fans. There has been very limited future planning. Football is the in thing at the moment. It's trendy but one of these days the bubble is going to burst."