Easter is a time of custom and ceremony, and Tottenham Hotspur have entered into the spirit of the season with a tradition of their own. Booking office chaos as the tickets for a big match go on sale swiftly followed by season ticket price increases that cannot be masked even by the wave of excitement as Spurs’ season reaches a crescendo. It’s as familiar as Easter eggs, admittedly without the warm feeling that giving and receiving brings, although by the end you will be left sick and bloated.
Another Wembley appearance, more stories of lost days watching the dreaded purple bar edge from left to right or hanging on the phone listening to musak only to be chucked out of the system just as you reach for the ‘buy tickets’ option. Let’s be clear about this: there is no good reason why this should happen. The lines are busy, of course they are. Season ticket holders are guaranteed a ticket but not the view or the price they want. Demand could be met if the club were prepared to invest in a system to handle it. It’s all down to money: they aren’t bothered in the slightest.
I confess that I escaped lightly. I was fortunate enough to be office based that day and able to use a landline phone so after the bar appeared to be etched permanently on my computer screen I dialled the box office more in hope than expectation and got the tickets I wanted in 10 minutes. What infuriates fans is not so much the delay but the total lack of logic and information available. If it took me 10 minutes at about 12.30 on the day of sale and others were cut off after waiting for two or three hours, there’s no proper queuing system. If people are patient enough to wait online, why then are they turfed out at the point of payment? To repeat, this is not technology. Rather, it’s a club that refuses to organise this fairly.
We’re doing well so out come the season ticket prices. Other clubs offer a
discount for early renewals as a reward for loyalty and for the extra interest they can accumulate all the while the cash is in their account. Spurs on the other hand give us access to a TV channel no one wants to watch. It’s the equivalent of Sky triumphantly saying that although prices have gone up £5 a month, Dmax and Sumo TV are free.
I negotiated the ridiculously untidy official site (things I do for you, dear reader) – design concept why click once to find key information when we can take you to seven different windows – to find out the other goodies. As well as yet another pinbadge I don’t want, they’ve included the plastic season ticket card as one of the gratis benefits. I should now apparently be grateful to have the means to enter the ground.
Spurs say they have limited the rise to keep pace with inflation, which works out at an average of £1.50 per game but even accepting these figures there are still winners and losers, again for reasons that are unclear. My seat in the centre shelf has gone up by £25, just under that £1.50 figure, perhaps because this time last year it rose by over 6%, way above other increases. Meanwhile, my salary has gone up 1% in 4 years. Last evening on twitter @cobthfc told me his Shelf side ticket is now £840, a rise of £70. The venerable @lustdoctor is now down a further £100 and 9 years of loyalty points for his Paxton vantage point. Inflation in N17 must be different from the rest of Britain. It hasn’t quite reached that of post WW1 Germany but expect fans with wheelbarrows of cash turning up at the box office.
I’m lucky to have a season ticket and a job but these rises to prices that are already amongst the highest in the world to watch a football match serve only to alienate Tottenham’s core support. It’s naked exploitation, of the fan’s passion, their loyalty to their team and of the club’s current success on the field. Players and manager praise the support, they couldn’t do without us, but there’s no reward, only a further turning of the screw. Here the law of supply and demand rules supreme. Levy will point to the lengthy waiting list, choosing whatever figure between 20,000 and 33,000 that suits at the time. To him, it doesn’t matter who turns up, it’s just bums on seats. If lifelong supporters turn their backs, there will be others to take their place.
However, the ultimate victims of this short-sighted policy could be the team itself, because this is simply storing up trouble. Things are fine and dandy now because we are doing well but as soon as standards fall, as they will as surely as day becomes night, dissatisfaction will grow, and it will be expressed in the only way fans around the country and across the globe know how – abuse.
In a logical world, protest will be expressed by simply not going but despite efforts at several clubs, that’s not the way we do things. We will complain by shouting, screaming and moaning, out loud, at the ground, in front of the players and staff. This does no good whatsoever for the team and its prospects, and if it happens, the board have to take a large share of the responsibility because they have alienated fans and exploited our apparently inexhaustible supply of goodwill towards the team we adore.
There is an unspoken but palpable and profound bond between fan and club, not just at Spurs but at very ground. We’ll support you, we’ll certainly take the bad times, provided you do your best. It’s a implied contract that is as powerful as anything that could be written down yet Spurs like many clubs in contemporary football do not understand that it’s a two-way agreement. Instead, we give, they take.
They can do so because one aspect of the old contract no longer holds good. ‘We pay your bloody wages’ was a familiar terrace cry during the lean spells but the fact is, we don’t any more. ‘We make a small contribution to your vastly inflated salary’ hasn’t much of a ring to it but it’s accurate because most of the cash comes from TV these days. I look forward to the day an impatient player snaps back with, ‘Ah but you haven’t taken Far East merchandising revenue into account.’ The price increases will probably fund a back-up squad player’s salary for 9 or 10 months, not much more.
Tottenham are lucky that most of our support are long-standing loyalists who wear the shirt through thick and thin, and we’ve seen plenty of thin over the years. In contrast, there is a generation of Arsenal and Chelsea fans who have known nothing but unbroken success. I’m not having a go (for once) – it’s a fact. That’s all they know. To us and the rest of football, it can make their recent complaints the subject of ridicule – Chelsea sack world-renowned managers because they only win the league once every two years, Arsenal are currently struggling, apparently, and fans are washing their hands of the club when they were “only” 5th.
However, we may have more in common with our north London rivals than we may wish to acknowledge, because the underlying reason for this discontent is high ticket prices, even greater than ours. The massive expense of football means we want something for our money, and before you say it, make no mistake that will happen at Spurs if prices stay high and we slip down the table, because this is no local problem, it’s a feature of the Premier League era. Manchester United have lost season ticket holders this season. Sunderland, Newcastle, Liverpool, fans all over the country will give voice to their indignation. This is not just about league position, it’s about the increasing distance between fan and club that high ticket prices engender.
Spurs know this. It’s no coincidence that the two photos that accompany the new price structure on the website are a player’s huddle and Rafa in the crowd celebrating a goal. We’re all in this together, but that phrase isn’t going down too well lately. It’s OK, we get it. My fear is that Spurs, like other Premier League clubs, don’t. It’s a two-way stretch and like Easter, giving means something as well as receiving. Tottenham could have given something more than a free plastic ticket wallet to reward our loyalty and they are stirring up problems for the future, because if we don’t get behind the team, the team don’t play. It’s not just about the money, it strikes at the heart of what really matters, on the pitch.