Premier League’s misguided pay-per-view experiment shows power of football to unite communities

The Premier League’s pay-per-view experiment at a time when many are struggling has sparked outrage around the country

Tony Evans
Friday 30 October 2020 10:08 GMT
Marcus Rashford 'grateful' to PM for making U-turn on children's food vouchers

The Premier League’s decision to continue the pay-per-view experiment until at least after next month’s international break is a remarkable misreading of the mood of fans across the country, according to Dave Kelly, one of the organisers of the boycott of the controversial scheme.

Kelly, the co-founder of Fans Supporting Foodbanks, is not surprised by the reaction of supporters who have donated the £14.95 fee to charity rather than spend the cash to watch the games. There is a groundswell of opposition to the idea of purchasing extra individual matches when so many already pay Sky and BT subscriptions.

“People are saying, ‘How can they do this? Fleecing us for £15,’” he said. “It’s shocking, especially when the pandemic is causing so much suffering.”

One of the positives to come out of the situation is that more than £300,000 that might have gone into the coffers of Premier League teams has been put to good causes. The eagerness of fans to support foodbanks rather than clubs has reflected well on a section of society that is frequently viewed through a prism of tribalism. Kelly has detected other undercurrents, too.

“The JustGiving page for the Liverpool vs Sheffield United game was set up on Friday at 11.30am. It has now collected over £127,000. More than 8,000 people donated.”

Football is doing its bit to help
Football is doing its bit to help (Getty)

Those bare facts are only part of the story. “When we look at the data, we see that people are contributing from all over the country, from Exeter to Scotland,” Kelly said. “You can see by their email addresses, which often have a reference to their teams in them, that it wasn’t just about Liverpool and Sheffield United. Celtic and Rangers fans have been donating because they want to send a message to stop pay per view as well as help the disadvantaged. It’s about the principle and opposing pay per view.”

Addressing hunger at the same time as rejecting the Premier League’s avarice has touched a nerve across the nation. The first Fans Supporting Foodbanks convention was held in Newcastle, attracting numerous supporters groups and trusts.

Foodbanks need support
Foodbanks need support (AFP)

The second get-together on Merseyside drew representatives from the support base of more than 40 clubs.

“The first conference at St James’ Park showed it was a national movement,” Kelly continued. “It’s resonated with people across the country.”

An Everton season-ticket holder and home-and-away diehard, Kelly came up with the idea to collect food outside stadiums while on a train coming back from London five years ago. He had seen the growing need to support struggling families and understood that Goodison and Anfield – like grounds in cities and towns everywhere - were hubs of the community. “It is not about charity,” he said. “It’s about solidarity with those who are suffering.”

The PPV experiment has gone down poorly
The PPV experiment has gone down poorly (Getty)

The first collection took place outside the Wilmslow Hotel pub outside Goodison before an Everton match against Manchester United. It was an inauspicious start. Armed with a wheelie bin, it felt like an uphill struggle.

“We collected more empty bottles and waste paper than food,” Kelly recalled with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Oh no, I have to go to Anfield and do this again next week.’” Things got better quickly once awareness spread.

“Since then we’ve done 233 consecutive games until lockdown,” he said. “We average a ton of food per game. About 30 per cent of all food donated to the North Liverpool Foodbank is from the matches.”

Generosity has grown in half a decade but so has necessity. “The demographic using the foodbanks has changed,” Kelly said. “It is not just the poorest who depend on foodbanks. Lots of people who thought they were comfortable before the pandemic are now experiencing food insecurity.

“We see people who are living in semi-detached houses who are now struggling to pay the mortgage. Coronavirus has been a wake-up call for a large section of society.”

The crisis has brought erstwhile rivals together, which has surprised even some of the beneficiaries of the programme. “When 1,700 students in Manchester were confined to their accommodation, the Blue Union [Everton], Spirit Of Shankly [Liverpool], the Man City foodbank support group and the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust took 3,000 pizzas to the students.

“When the van pulled up outside, it reminded me of the Jungle in Calais [the refugee camp]. When we were getting food off the back of the van, the students were shocked. They couldn’t believe that supporters of the north-west’s four big clubs were working together.

“That’s the power of football. It unites communities. I support Everton but I don’t want to just donate a tin of beans to an Evertonian. I want to donate it to someone who’s hungry.”

Kelly is unstinting in his praise for supporters of every stripe who have stepped up to meet the challenge of feeding the needy. He also credits Marcus Rashford for piling pressure on the government. “We know we can’t eradicate child poverty by collecting outside stadiums,” he said. “We’ll only cure it by getting it on the national agenda.”

The battle against hunger will continue and plans are already in place to escalate the protests against pay per view. The next target will be the Premier League’s sponsors.

“We are not going away,” Kelly said. “The football family are all buying in and saying no. It’s Greed FC v Need FC. There can only be one winner.”

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