Supporting a big, worldwide club has its advantages. Never does a day go by when a writer doesn’t write, a presenter doesn’t present or a tweeter doesn’t tweet about our wonderful team. Some pieces written by our fans and professionals alike are amongst the best (and worst) I’ve ever read. Yet there is a time – like at the moment for me – when I want to get away from the plastic sheen of the Premier League. I love it, yet loath it too. I’m not bitter about the money players get, it’s their job. They are the stars of this show. The centrepiece of this theatre of the sublime. Performers on the grandest stage on the planet. I’m not bitter about the money footballers get. It’s their job.
What I am bitter about, though, is the money that is taking football away from its traditional supporters. The men, women and children which frequent communities that are built on football are being pushed from the centre of these clubs to the outskirts.
Forced to view from small screens and streams, from Sky and their ever-expensive sports package. The ticket prices never decrease, and the TV money only increases. It’s any wonder if Sky/BT put pressure on clubs to keep prices high in order to keep their television packages popular for the stay-at-home viewer. I wonder.
Wages aren’t killing the sport here, the ticket prices are killing the sport. Don’t let the impact of ticket sales confuse you. Ticket sales are less and less important to top flight clubs and this trend is only going to continue. Sky and sponsors pay players wages, this money changes hands when players are bought. Ticket prices per year could barely buy you a player any longer. Such a trend needs to be noticed. Such a trend need to stop. Saying this, there are clubs that are trying to win this battle. Or at least bring in a credible opposition. There are clubs fighting the fight.
I don’t think there is much coincidence in my recent annoyance (which can be found here) with modern football and my decision to try and take more of a notice in local, grassroots football, but my first game watching AFC Liverpool play was one of brilliance. It may not have been love at first kick, but whatever it was, I’ve been lusting for it ever since.
It was a Friday night. The FA Cup pre-qualifier. AFC Liverpool, a club built to create an affordable alternative to Liverpool Football Club, and football in general, were playing Radcliffe Borough on their long road to get into the FA Cup proper. A long road it may be, but a road well-travelled for many of the supporters who grew up with a Liverpool team dominating the trophy from years past.
Watching at the Marine Travel Arena, AFC Liverpool’s current home, my evening started well. The sun was going down, but the beautiful orangey-pink sky that shone over the ground made for a perfect backdrop to the purest of games. Non-league clubs playing in the greatest of club competitions. On a Friday night. A pint and a wander round and I picked my spot. Behind the goal, every time.
As the game gets underway, me and my brother quickly realise we’re at a game. A proper game. Just because this club is a small one, doesn’t mean its support isn’t dedicated. Songs start getting sung and cries of “well played Cox!” (Insert any other players name here, too) ring around the 200+ fans that have attended tonight’s game. It’s not long before me and my brother are joining in a chorus of “AFC, Liverpool!” after the club hit the post twice in the first half. Even with this, after 48 minutes AFC find themselves 0-2 down. The chairman’s choice for a certain scorer on the night, though, Ryan Cox, bags two goals either side of a Francis Barry goal meant that AFC Liverpool had their own cup comeback written into their history. And what a night in their history.
If you’ve come here for a match review, then I’m sorry to disappoint. That wasn’t the aim of this piece. My aim, solely, was to tell you how I found the football at the other end of the ladder. The other end of the pricing structure. And here goes.
I found the evening to be charming. I found it brilliant and I found it endearingly pure. There really is something unique about football of non-league standard. The quality of football itself was excellent. As patronising as that may sound (that’s not my intention), I really didn’t know what to expect. That is me being honest. It’s not a case of thinking I was attending a match on the park with players who had never seen each other, but when you think of this level of football, it’s tough to look past a muddy, dodgy pitch and an awful lot of 40-yard balls to the striker. But that isn’t what this was. The football, by both teams it must be added, was really impressive. I suppose if you want to judge it purely financially, then yes, it was well worth my £5 entrance fee. But football needs to mean more than that to people.
We’ve gotten to a point in modern football where everything is monetised. Everything has a price, and, therefore, we can’t just go and enjoy a bit of togger with our mates unless we have £70 in our back pocket. Until owners and money men realise that football should come first, and price second, the beautiful game will lose its worth, socially, to the people.
If you complain about the state of the modern game, but continue the pay the price without seeking an alternative, then you only have yourself to blame. Local teams such as AFC Liverpool offer that service that you’re crying out for. These lads who play, and these people who support, they love Liverpool. The big Liverpool. But they had had enough of it. They wanted their club. Their own club. I, like the founders of AFC Liverpool, have no problem with Liverpool’s owners. This isn’t a protest piece and they aren’t protesting. They just want to be able to watch football at a price their families can afford. And AFC Liverpool is affording them that luxury, and letting them have it at minimal cost. And for the record, what AFC do charge goes straight back into the running of the club. AFC are a non-profit organisation.
If a day passes you by when you can’t afford the football, or England are on the tele, then way not drive down to your local ground. If you’re local to Liverpool, you have AFC, Marine, Southport, Skelmersdale United and many more clubs on your doorstep, and if you’re not local to Liverpool then it still won’t be too hard to find your local non-league club. You will not regret attending. After that Friday night at the football, I will be going back again. Many more times.
Football isn’t about making money, it’s about making people happy. It’s about making afternoons, evening and societies too. And if that isn’t making sense to you, then we know we need to continue making noise.