The fan's view: Premier prices drove me away
From Villa to Cambridge City. Adrian Smith explains why he gave up on the big league
Sunday 25 September 2005
I am proud to support Aston Villa. I'm originally from Solihull and now live near Cambridge, but my visits to Villa Park are becoming something of a rarity. Indeed, the last time that I attended a game there was on 7 February 2004, when Villa beat Leeds United 2-0. That was also the last time I went to a Premiership fixture.
There are many reasons for such a poor record of attendance. The commute to and from Aston B6 is getting steeper, the Premiership is becoming boring and in some regards uncompetitive, fixtures are altered largely to cater for an armchair audience, players' salaries are hitting ridiculous heights which alienate the fans; it's simply all too expensive.
To be fair, Villa's home ticket prices compare favourably with certain other clubs, but when we're being asked to pay, for example, £45 to follow Villa to Birmingham City or Chelsea, that's out of my league.
I consider myself as part of a generation that is becoming priced out of top-flight football. I'm 32, married, have a three-year-old daughter and we're expecting our second child a week before Christmas. It's all a question of priorities. To us, £45 equates with a pair of new shoes for our daughter and a takeaway on a Saturday night, and it also allows me to watch Cambridge City in the Nationwide Conference South at 3pm on a Saturday.
My dad and I have been watching non-League football for years, and so as well as watching the Villa, it was natural for me to seek out City on moving to Cambridgeshire in 1998. In recent years, however, I've noticed that I've been watching more City, and less Villa, and so has my dad.
Again, there are many reasons for this, but City offer value and convenience and operate in a competitive league. Adults currently pay £9 to watch City's home games, and there are some impressive offers for others: concessions are £4, under-12s pay just £1, and it costs £15 for a family (two adults and up to three children). It'll cost you £1 to park your car at the ground, there's no extra charge for a seat, and you can share a drink with opposing supporters and City's players, manager and chairman. There is a connection, a bond that the top division lost long ago.
City's chairman, Arthur Eastham, has strong views on the modern game. "Sky television and the money that they have introduced is the main reason why attendances are falling," he told me. "Several top international stars have greatly added to the English game, but along with these imports have come a plethora of Joe Ordinaries. Joe O's mean that clubs like ours no longer get £100,000 for the likes of Neil Harris, as the money in the top clubs' pockets from Sky and the like allows them to scout overseas to make more exciting buys.
"Most clubs at our level spend more than they earn, and because people are lost from the live non-League game to the armchair game on Sky, we need to look at different initiatives to get folk in. It's probably an easier task plaiting sawdust, and the lack of response to initiatives is always frustrating, but we have to keep trying."
Such initiatives were typified by an offer to City fans for this weekend's trip to Nottinghamshire and Eastwood Town in the FA Cup. The cost for return coach travel? £5. Such schemes and the dedication of all at City will hopefully help the club prosper.
Meanwhile, I'm joined on the terraces by fans of several bigger clubs, including a Swansea City supporter, "Swanseajack". Although a loyal Swans fan, Swanseajack is now also hooked on the non-League game. "It was the welcome I received at the club," he says. "Everyone from the barman to the guy on the gate had a smile on their face, and it was nice to be treated with a bit of respect."
Clearly, respect is key in football's troubled climate. I'll always support Aston Villa, but, like many others, I have been turned off by the Premiership experience.
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