That old journalistic staple, "worth the ticket price alone", appears to have been retired, which is not before time. Quite apart from the fact most writing it had not paid, ticket prices have reached such levels even a slalom goal by Lionel Messi would not be enough, in itself, to justify the expenditure. However, some of the outrage at prices does seem contrived, notably with respect to next month's FA Cup final.
The Football Association was castigated for a 22 per cent rise in tickets taking them to £115 each. Less well publicised was that the FA had not increased prices for four years, were selling their cheapest tickets for £45, and, unlike the competing clubs, are a not-for-profit body which ploughs income back into the national game.
Even £45 is a fair sum, especially in an areas of economic hardship such as the Potteries and parts of Manchester. But are the prices really excessive for the FA Cup final, the highlight of the domestic calendar? Not when tickets for the Champions League final, in the same stadium a fortnight later, are priced £80-£300. Not when Stoke supporters are already, before tickets go on sale, reportedly committing themselves to buying tickets from agencies for thousands of pounds.
Some comparisons may be helpful. Ticket to watch Barry Manilow at the O2 arena next month, on what is, let's be honest, a nostalgia trip: £73-£111. Ticket to see the boxing double bill featuring James DeGale and Nathan Cleverly at the same venue later in the month: £88-£517. Ticket to watch England v Sri Lanka cricket one-day international at the Oval in June: £96 (all others sold out). Ticket for 2012 Olympics swimming session: £20-£450. Ticket to attend Barcelona's next home La Liga match (v Espanyol): £42-£124.
This week Manchester United are in Germany, oft held up as the spectators' nirvana – cheap tickets, standing and beer for sale in view of the pitch. Indeed, fans of Schalke 04, United's Champions League opponents, can watch Bundesliga matches for £13. The cheapest tickets available at Old Trafford for a Premier League game are £27, including a members' discount. But assessing ticket prices is as complicated as trying to find the best deal charged by energy companies. Schalke charge £11 for juniors (standing), United charge £10 (members discount, seated). Schalke's most expensive tickets are £44, United's are £49 (with discount). Given Schalke's lack of stars, United's tickets seem good value.
This will be disputed by the Manchester United Supporters Trust who last week called upon owners the Glazers to match at Old Trafford the 30 per cent price cuts they have made in their NFL franchise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But watching the Bucs is still expensive. Taking into account the compulsory purchase of tickets for all home cup matches United's season tickets this year ranged from £28-£50 a match. The Bucs' cheapest season ticket is £21 a match but that is up in the gods in the corner. Most cost more than £50 with the most expensive at £239 (with free food and parking). In the States the (relatively) cheap sport is baseball – the 2008 World champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, charge £10-£39.
Baseball teams, however, play more than 80 regular season home matches. The NFL play eight. The law of supply and demand dictates prices. The Glazers have cut admission at the Bucs because they failed to sell out two home matches last season which meant, under NFL rules, the games were blacked out on local television. That is expensive, and embarrassing, thus the price cut.
There is evidence that the demand for Manchester United tickets is not what is was, the once-daunting waiting list for season tickets has evaporated and match tickets are occasionally put on general sale, but demand remains high enough for the Glazers to resist calls to cut prices. It is no co-incidence that the club offering the best ticket deals in the Premier League over the last few seasons, Blackburn Rovers, is also the one with the lowest occupancy rates. Only when United fans boycott Old Trafford in large numbers will the Glazers cut prices.
Which brings us back to the FA Cup final. The FA could sell these tickets at 10 times the price. It is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion for Stoke fans, once-in-a-generation for Manchester City (though that looks like changing). People usually expect to pay for such events; it is one reason they spend so much on weddings. Why, when bread-and-butter Premier League games cost so much, should FA Cup finals not attract a premium? At least the money does not go into the pockets of the players, their agents, or the club owner.
Easy for me to say. I am in the very privileged position of being paid to watch football matches. Which is perhaps why personally I am astonished at the prices supporters continue to pay to watch Premier League football. Surely at some point resistance will appear. The recession was expected to force the issue, but there is little sign of it yet. Seat occupancy rates remain above 90 per cent.
One caveat is that few of those seats are occupied by the next generation. A Football Supporters' Federation survey suggested only one in 10 was under 24. To youngsters Premier League football is becoming a rare treat. Last season I took my son to a top-flight club and paid £44 each. It was worth it because he still remembers it, but he also talks about watching Guildford Flames ice hockey team, and that cost less than £10 between us. The Flames might become a regular event, Premier League football will remain a once-a-year experience.
This offers an opportunity to clubs outside the top flight, many of whom have imaginative deals. Even an ambitious Championship club such as Leicester City charges Under-12s £5 a ticket and allows Under-8s in free. Or how about women's football? The most expensive tickets in the new Super League are £6, the cheapest (Chelsea) £3 (£1 kids).
It is not the same, but you may see a piece of skill which really is worth the admission price.
Coerver's unnoticed passing paints sad picture of UK game
As they prepared their teams at the weekend, both Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson will have spared a thought for one of football's most influential coaches who died on Friday.
The record books show that Wiel Coerver led Feyenoord to Uefa Cup triumph over Tottenham in 1974 but his significance goes far beyond that.
In the late 70s, concerned at the defensive direction the game was taking, he developed what became known as the Coerver Method. This focused on teaching one-on-one skills to children, notably dribbling past defenders, through drills designed to be enjoyable enough to mitigate their repetitive element.
This has since been expanded into team play and propagated throughout the world via the Coerver Coaching franchise, which was established by Alfred Galustian and Charlie Cooke, the former Chelsea winger.
However, the fundamental aspect remains developing individual skills and the drills are used by clubs such as Arsenal and Manchester United (through René Mulensteen) to enhance the skills of elite players as gifted as Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Technique remains one of the great weaknesses of player development in England. Trevor Brooking is trying to address this through coaching modules run by the Football Association, but the fact that Coerver's death passed largely unnoticed in the UK is a reminder that, for too many, technique is still subservient to workrate and commitment.
Hughes risks being left behind with show of bad grace
As a player Mark Hughes was prepared to take the bruises and dish them out, but the game has moved on and he did himself no credit with his petulant reaction to the booking of Brede Hangeland at Molineux on Saturday. Regardless of what contact Hangeland made with the ball he ploughed through Wolves' Steven Fletcher from behind.
In the modern game that is at least a booking and the reason is the fact Marco van Basten played his last match aged 28, his ankles shredded by too many tackles from behind. Hughes'response was in part due to frustration at previous decisions but, having lost key strikers himself this season to injuries resulting from tackles, he should appreciate why Hangeland had to be booked.Reuse content