Curb Premier League power and cut prices, supporters summit urges

 

The week in which football fans marched on Premier League headquarters in central London ended yesterday with some 400 more descending on the National Football Centre, where the richest League in the world again found themselves under fire.

Andy Burnham, the former Culture, Media and Sport secretary, won prolonged applause when he told the annual Supporters Summit: "No Premier League football is worth £60. It's not that good. It's greed that makes a ticket cost that much. It shouldn't be the case that players are being paid what they are so supporters have to pay that much for a ticket. The message has got to go back that there needs to be some fairness here. It's time for the players, the clubs and everybody to think a bit more about those supporters."

Burnham described the formation of the Premier League in 1992 as "the moment when power was given way" and earned more applause by calling on the Football Association to assert their authority. "I don't want a government regulator, it's not the right answer, I want the FA to be the body that runs the game," he said. "If we carry on as we are, the FA will drift into irrelevance."

As an Everton supporter, he also criticised the loss of "competitive balance" in the League, claiming that young supporters of former champions like Everton, Aston Villa and Leeds could not realistically expect ever to see their team win the League again. After asking for recommendations from fans to be included in the next Labour Party general election manifesto, he suggested two things that football needed: more supporters' ownership of clubs and an independent regulator backed by a royal charter. "If you let the big and powerful run the sport, it will benefit the big and powerful," he said.

Sitting next to Burnham on the top table, the outgoing FA chairman David Bernstein warned his successor, Greg Dyke, that he will need to rein in the Premier League to redress the sport's balance of power. Bernstein steps down in three weeks admitting that he has not been able to achieve as many changes as he wanted in the way the FA are run, with greater independence from the professional game.

"The big issue is the strength of the Premier League," he said. "It's a great product but its success has got out of balance. We need a strong independent FA to balance that. I hope Greg Dyke and others take that and move the issue on. Whether we can get that voluntarily or not is an open issue."

Many of the delegates present yesterday at the summit held by the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct had been at the demonstration about ticket prices in London last Wednesday, when representatives held discussions with Premier League representatives. Kevin Miles, the FSF chief executive, said yesterday: "They were prepared to listen, with a degree of sympathy. I think they're concerned about the level of away fans attendances, which have gone down by 10 per cent. But they made the point that they don't set the prices, the clubs do."

Later yesterday, the chief executives of Aston Villa and Peterborough United backed the FSF's campaign for so-called safe standing by calling for small-scale trials. Villa's Paul Faulkner, who has already offered to stage one such trial based on the "rail seats" used with great success in Germany, said: "It may not work and people may not want it but let's have a grown-up and sensible debate about it."

Six Premier League clubs, including the three newly promoted ones, are known to be in favour and the FSF believes support will grow. Unlike the old-fashioned terraces, which were replaced by seating after 96 fans died at Hillsborough, Sheffield Wednesday's ground, in 1989, the modern system of "rail seats" comprises a continuous rail along each row to prevent crowd surging, with seats attached that can be either used or folded away according to the type of match.

Campaigners say a survey last year showed nine out of 10 supporters back the choice to sit or stand. Many stand anyway in seated areas, although stewards are supposed to make them sit down and clubs like Manchester United have had their ticket allocation reduced at some away games because of persistent standing. But the government, the Premier League and the Hillsborough Support Group remain opposed.

* The Premier League are to take legal action to make internet service providers block a website which streams live matches.

The governing body, which agreed a new worldwide TV deal worth about £5.5 billion over three years, is in the process of requesting a court order which would force ISPs to ban their customers from accessing www.FirstRow1.eu, a website based in Sweden.

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