Supporters pay high price for satisfaction

FA PREMIER LEAGUE SURVEY: All-seated stadiums gain widespread approval despite loss of atmosphere.
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With more than 60 questions, some requiring considerable thought, the FA Premier League's Fan Survey would seem to be heavily weighted in favour of Arsenal fans. They have spent years acquiring the ability to maintain concentration in the face of tedium.

The survey certainly asked more searching questions than John Jensen ever has of defenders and, although there are some reservations, such a rare and comprehensive attempt to find out what fans want from the game is to be welcomed. Some of the findings are startling, some are as obvious as a sex survey in Cosmopolitan. Others prompt concern.

Few regular spectators will be surprised at the discovery that more women are coming to matches, that most people like the new all-seated stadiums - albeit while bemoaning reduced "atmosphere" - and that Newcastle supporters buy more replica shirts than any other.

More surprising is the discovery that 52 per cent of Manchester United fans claim to come from the area (58 per cent of Manchester City fans do) with only 12 per cent coming from more than 50 miles away, the fifth lowest.

This is partly explained by it being a survey of supporters who actually go to matches, and plenty of them, rather than support their team from a barstool near you. Newcastle and Blackburn - to nobody's surprise - have the most local support and Liverpool and Leeds the greatest long- distance one. However, the respected Sir Norman Chester Centre at Leicester University, which conducted the survey, note that "for various reasons the samples at Liverpool and Leeds raise some qualms".

This is one reservation about the survey, as its authors recognise. In the introduction they refer to "delinquent" clubs who failed to distribute the surveys properly and "strongly suspect that some remained dormant at club offices".

Even where properly distributed the survey is skewed in favour of the more affluent, better educated supporter and against younger fans. The response, 15,170, is the equivalent of a poor Premiership gate and less than 25 per cent of the questionaires printed.

To compare, the recent survey in FourFourTwo magazine sifted nearly 1,700 replies from 2,300 surveys - almost 75 per cent, though of a much smaller group. The Premiership survey also has a disproportionate number of questions concerning merchandising and only deals with Premiership fans.

But clear trends still emerge, good and bad. The rise in ethnic minority support is encouraging, although, at 1.9 per cent of total respondents it is less than 40 per cent of the equivalent share of the general population. It is even smaller than the ethnic representation among players. Broken down, the increase in Asian spectators is sizeable, especially as Asian players have yet to make an impact.

There are also positive signs in the number of new, or returning supporters, drawn to the game by better facilities and safer stands. This is a prime factor in encouraging parents to bring their children, and in the growing number of female fans. Such schemes such as Coventry City's "Kids-for- a-Quid" scheme have played a part here.

Such initiatives are all the more important as the survey records a marked discontent with admission prices. Although season ticket holders are drawn across the salary range, older fans are under-represented at grounds, despite the improved facilities and greater seating. The lack of discounts for senior citizens is regarded as significant here.

Similarly, unemployed fans make up a lower percentage than in the general population. These figures may be partly due to the nature of the survey, but the feeling that admission prices are too high are supported by FourFourTwo's survey in which more than 80 per cent of fans said prices had reached "saturation level".

Wimbledon, perennial sellers of players, have the most supporters in the pounds 30,000-plus bracket (a quarter) while wealthy Aston Villa have the highest number of fans earning under pounds 10,000 (a third). London fans, as might be expected, earn more than provincial ones (they usually pay higher admission prices, too).

There is also disquiet over the reduced atmosphere at grounds, especially among supporters of West Ham, Sheffield Wednesday and Arsenal.

Arsenal's neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur, had the highest approval rating for foreign players (95.7 per cent), though the survey was taken before Jurgen Klinsmann left. Norwich City, who have imported such global superstars as Henrik Mortensen and Dennis van Wyk, had the lowest (60 per cent). Second highest was Manchester United, second lowest, Crystal Palace - a certain Frenchman may have influenced these figures.

The enthusiasm for foreign players does not extend to foreign football. Three-quarters of fans do not want to see slower, Continental-style matches. The figure drops to half if it helps the England team but that is a rare note of comfort for Terry Venables with only three per cent regarding England as being more important than their club. Two-thirds think there should be a new national stadium with Birmingham the favoured venue.

Among other findings: season ticket olders are more likely to subscribe to SkyTV than casual fans; Liverpool have the youngest fans; 90 per cent of Chelsea supporters are aged 20-49; Manchester United and Newcastle fans are the most impressed with the quality of Premiership football - Crystal Palace and Arsenal fans are the least impressed; Radio Five Live is praised; referees are not. And, finally, few fans support a winter break, even if it would give them time to fill in next year's survey.

THE FA PREMIER LEAGUE SURVEY

Taken from a sample of 15,170 fans drawn on a representative basis from all Premier League clubs, the FA Premier League Survey 1995, conducted by the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research at Leicester University, forms the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of football fans in this country

The fan

Sex and family status

Male 87.2 per cent

Female 12.8

Married/with partner 59.9

Single/other 36.8

With school-age children 28.9

Employment and ethnic background

Paid employment 77.2 per cent

Full-time student 10.8

Not in employment 4.5

Retired 7.5

White/European 98.1

African-Carribbean 0.8

Asian 0.7

Other non-white 0.4

Are you more likely to bring your school age children to matches these days?

Yes 27.1 per cent

No 7.4

No school-age children 65.5

If you are watching more football, what has attracted you most to matches today

Safer grounds 34.3

Improved facilities 25.6

Improved standard of football 24.0

More friendly atmosphere 21.1

More exciting to watch 8.6

Estimated annual football spending of an "average" Premier League fan

Club merchandise pounds 85

Home-match expenditure (16 games) pounds 390

Away-match expenditure (5 games)

pounds 200

Total pounds 675

Average match-day spend

(travel, tickets etc) pounds 24.39

Which of the following have you bought in the past 12 months?

Adult club shirt 48.8 per cent

Child shirt/kit 21.0

"Old-style" shirt 8.3

Other adult clothing 39.9

Other child clothing 18.2

Club items for house 21.9

Club video 52.7

Club hat/scarf/badge 59.3

Club magazine/paper 55.9

Football book 29.2

Car souvenirs 30.0

Other items 25.0

The away fan

What do you think the policy of clubs should be to away fans?

If clubs want home fans only that's OK 4.7 per cent

All clubs should take some away fans, decided locally 22.0

Should be national agreement on a minimum space to be given by all clubs to away fans 73.3

Is it reasonable that some clubs charge away fans more?

Yes 6.1 per cent

No 92.3

Don't know 1.6

Would you attend more away matches if tickets were easier to obtain?

Yes 57.6 per cent

No 31.6

Don't know 7.3

The game

Would you like to see more top football in this country played in a slower, more measured style like that more typical on the Continent?

Yes 17.0 per cent

No 76.5

Don't know 6.5

What do you think about the recent influx of foreign players?

Good for our game 79.0 per cent

Not good 10.8

Undecided 10.2

Do you think foreign players who play for English clubs should be restricted only to proven internationals from top football nations?

Yes 25.2 per cent

No 67.1

Don't know 7.7

The national team

How important to you is sucess for your national team compared to success for your club?

Club much more important 48.7

Club more important 28.8

Equal importance 19.4

National team more important 2.1

much more important 1.0

How often to you travel to Wembley to watch England?

At least once a season 8.1

Once every couple of seasons 12.6

Less often 24.4

Never 54.9

The winter schedule

Should the Coca-Cola Cup be reorganised to allow the competition to be completed before Christmas?

Yes 51.0 per cent

No 42.1

Undecided 6.9

Would you be in favour of a short winter break (December/January)?

Yes 35.5 per cent

No 59.1

Undecided 5.4

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