The real price of being a fanatic

It may come as a shock on the terraces. But it can cost more to follow your favourite football team than to be an opera buff

What price devotion? As the football season begins, some fans are about to discover that their draughty seat in the stands may cost them more than a box at the Opera.

In the 1990s, real dedication, whether it be to Blackburn Rovers, Britten or Boyzone, is an expensive business. For the average football fan, the cost of keeping up with a favourite team can now run into thousands of pounds a year.

David Blatt, vice chairman of the London branch of the Football Supporters' Association, describes the sport as his "dream, his religion". But he admits that following the dream can leave fans broke.

"A season ticket to a premiership club can now cost anything between pounds 250 and pounds 1,000. In the last five years inflation has gone up by around 15 per cent, but ticket prices have gone up an average 300 per cent. It's a joke," he said.

"For First Division clubs you're looking at a gate of between pounds 10 and pounds 40. Say you have 30 games a season, every game an away trip. With your fare money, a couple of drinks and a dog burger, you're well in for pounds 60 for the day. That's pounds 1,800 a season."

Fans who cannot afford to travel to every game might instead subscribe to Sky sports channels. They are the only way to ensure full match coverage, at a cost of approximately pounds 26 a month.

"If you don't want to pay the subscription you go to a pub, but some pubs are now charging pounds 4 to pounds 5 to come in on big match days," said Mr Blatt, a Manchester United fan.

Then there is the football strip, made legendary by David Mellor and a fashion item no footie fan can do without - a fact not unnoticed by the clubs.

Full kits, including shorts, tops and socks cost up to pounds 69. Some clubs produce up to three a year. Mr Blatt says he and his household would be "decked from top to bottom in red and white" if his wife allowed it. But he admits that passion has an increasingly high price. "If you've got kids, for example, it just becomes too expensive. There may be a point where football stops being an ordinary mans' game."

Perhaps Mr Blatt ought to redirect his tenners towards a tenor. A three- season ticket for all productions at the English National Opera would cost him a mere pounds 75 to pounds 600 a year.

Productions at the Royal Opera House would cost him a little more. While tickets in the Gods (the opera equivalent of the football terraces) cost an average pounds 45, tickets in the stalls average out at pounds 114-120 each.

A fan with a passion for Pavarotti might pay more; demand for his performances means that tickets have changed hands for up to pounds 500.

But for the true opera buffs, the high G of the opera year is the Glyndebourne Festival. This year, tickets cost just pounds 10 upwards. For a donation of between pounds 30,000-pounds 150,000, they could become founder members, which guarantees tickets, although they have to be paid for on top, along with an annual subscription of pounds 960-pounds 4,800.

At this depth of pocket, aficionados are unlikely to worry about the subsidiary costs of a couple of glasses of champagne, dinner for two and the accompanying CDs, which can now be bought at Royal Opera House. It has a sales kiosk in its foyer, having recognised the enthusiasts' appetite for associated merchandise.

And when it comes to the pop fan, this appetite knows no bounds.

Kate Thornton, editor of the magazine Smash Hits, recently did a costing on all the official merchandise available for Take That in one year, including the cost of going to two concerts.

"It came to pounds 1,700. That includes bedcovers, lampshades and swiss rolls. If they are fanatical, ie the average girl fan, they will get as much of it as they possibly can."

Even for the young, fandom does not come cheap. An evening at a Boyzone concert, for example, might cost the devotee pounds 16 per ticket, pounds 25 in travel and pounds 10 in food and drink.

"Then you would have to have a programme - pounds 6, a T-shirt, - pounds 15, and your commemorative poster, key ring and mug - total pounds 14," Ms Thornton said. Add to your video of Boyzone hit singles a video of the concert, "so that you can relive your moment in the audience", and you are a further pounds 25 down. This is before you have even bought the music. (The average Smash Hits reader, says Ms Thornton, buys four CD singles and two albums a month).

The "mushrooming" of the merchandising industry is not lost on Smash Hits, which now produces its own line. "We feature Boyzone in every issue. We know that people will buy it, just for a poster," said Ms Thornton, who says there are "tens and thousands" of such fans; a recent offer of the underpants of Take That heartthrob Mark Owen's, "worn and unwashed", received 300,000 applications.

"With merchandise now it's not what they can afford, it's what they can't afford not to have," she said.

David Blatt agreed. He would sacrifice the cost of the family holiday if it meant going to a dream match.

"The most important words in the world are 'I was there'.Nothing can compensate for that. That's worth however much you have to pay."

THE POP FAN

Concert ticket from pounds 16 - there's no substitute for seeing idols in the flesh.

T-shirts pounds 15 - essential 'proof' that the devoted fan has been there.

Programmes and souvenirs can add a further pounds 20 to the cost of a concert. Full merchandise can cost pounds 1,700.

Pop magazines 90p-pounds 2 - for free posters, and to keep up with the latest music news.

CDs and videos pounds 3.99 to pounds 12.99 - every song must be covered and no lucrative collectors' issue ignored.

THE FOOTBALL SUPPORTER

Ticket - the lower leagues may be cheap, but you'll pay up to pounds 40 for a Premier League game.

Football shirt - all three club designs could cost you pounds 120. Some clubs currently offer six.

Subscription to satellite television pounds 26 a month - for the matches you can't get to.

Travel - a European match may cost you your family holiday

Food, drink and fares at away matches can cost pounds 1,800 a season.

THE OPERA BUFF

A seat in the stalls at the Royal Opera House could cost pounds 120.

Take your picnic to Glyndebourne - pounds 30,000 will buy you 'founder membership'.

CDs of the opera may cost pounds 40 each, but are essential for listening at home.

You may need pounds 500 - cash - to secure that tout ticket for Pavarotti.

Formal wear - darling, when you've got that much money, who cares?

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