Those dedicated Pilgrims who made the trip to Blackpool may have noticed that there weren’t many home fans in attendance. Trekking to a seaside resort town on a dismal December afternoon isn’t many people’s idea of a good time. Alas, the poor stewardship of the Oyston family over Blackpool FC has stopped many lifelong Tangerines from going to games. The Oystons have, in their thirty-year tenure of owning the football club: seen them go from the fourth to the first tier and back again, used ableist slurs against fans, tried to sue those who criticised them and illegally taken the money of a Latvian investor in the club to fund their own business interests.
In the world of business, it isn’t hard to find examples of bad management. One could cast their mind back to 2008, where Fred Goodwin’s reckless gambling led to the near-collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Goodwin was forced to resign by RBS’ shareholders – why can’t football fans do the same with the incompetent owners of their clubs. As with many footballing issues, Germany is the North Star that can lead us to a better future. In Germany, the club’s members must hold majority voting rights. This has ensured that German clubs are inclusive and mindful of the supporters in their decision-making, limiting the power of wannabe despots.
German football clubs are run like a social enterprise. Their importance to the local community is considered, and they are grown sustainably. English clubs are just another arm of capitalism – most owners’ first priority is to turn as big a profit as possible. Lots of money is spunked very quickly on players, with no consideration to the long-term considerations beyond the playing staff. Thankfully, we don’t have a situation that’s as bad as the franchises of American sport that can be moved on the whim of the owner. Financial Fair Play has helped – clubs are more loath to overspend in the knowledge that shareholders will accept pennies on the pound to ensure their club survives. However, a more social approach, like that of Germany, would be preferable.
Ticket prices in England are too high. I am 20 years old, and if I were to decide to go to a home game on the day, I would have to pay £18. I would pay £4 less if I were to instead go to the Saturday matinee of Hamlet at the Theatre Royal. The sport of the working-class has priced out its original demographic. Not all English clubs are to blame – for example, Huddersfield have kept their tickets cheap, and the Football Supporters’ Federation’s ‘twenty’s plenty’ campaign has led many clubs to keep their away prices low, but there is still a myriad of problems. It’s cheaper to watch Bayern Munich than Plymouth Argyle – I know Graham Carey’s good, but not quite that good.
Argyle, by a long chalk, aren’t the worst-run club in England. Some of flak James Brent has taken has been a little unfair – the criticism from some quarters over his handling of Toumani Diagouraga’s contract a notable example. However, this isn’t to say that we are a model football club. Brent shouldn’t be totally to blame for this – he is a product of the English footballing environment and he has the new grandstand to think about. But neither should he be completely exonerated. There are only a handful of clubs in our division with a dearer season ticket than the one at Home Park, according to the BBC’s Price of Football survey. We don’t seem to be getting the requisite pleasure, in terms of investment in the squad, for the pain of those high prices.