Thursday 21 August 2014

Opinion: Football ticket price march - a refreshing reality cheque?

Fans of dozens of clubs from the Premier League and Football League marched on their shared headquarters in London last week to vent their fury at rising ticket prices.
I’ve discussed on this blog before the extent to which clubs care about the huge stress their supporters put on their own finances – ie not a huge amount. However, I was heartened – in covering the event for the Evening Standard and London Live – by the sense of reality most fans seemed to have.
Chatting to those on the march, most understand that the clubs are businesses which won’t simply slash prices because they’re asked to and that fans are a captive market whose single-minded loyalty can be exploited.
It is worth noting the sense of pride I felt in seeing a bunch of bedraggled but noisy football fans walking down Oxford Street singing with the Primark-addicted masses and tourists open mouthed watching on.
When the march reached the FA headquarters, however, without any obvious, pre-planned chants the crowd perhaps didn’t make Richard Scudamore and co really hear their fury. Simply standing there briefly and heading for a much-needed pint was probably not the best tactic regardless of the rain. This report gives an interesting insight into the meeting.

Whilst I don’t agree with some of the Football Supporters’ Federation’s goals – it needs to recognise football does move on and change with the modern world – the pricing of football tickets in the UK is obscene and the federation's campaign an excellent one. To pay more than to go to a gig or the theatre, often to see your team lose in the rain following an awkward kick-off time, feels greedy and that’s before time, travel and frequency of matches are brought into the debate.
A recognition that this is a long battle was a feeling in abundance, which was refreshing, and in the short-term if prices could simply plateau that would feel like a real victory. Ultimately, no one wants to watch games played in empty stadiums and more needs to be done to prevent this from happening.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Opinion: Sheffield Wednesday's season opener brings wizardry and worries

An opening day away day in sunny Brighton is about as idyllic an Owls match as you can attend, and a 1-0 win amongst a healthy 2,600 roaring Wednesdayites added to the feeling this was the perfect match day. As an 'exiled' fan living in London, a southern season opener was an extra treat. 

Classic new season optimism has been tempered by the prolonged delays to Hafiz Mammadov's takeover of the club, handled in the inimitable Wednesday style (announce the done deal first, flail in public later. This is, after all, a club which sacked its manager on Christmas Eve 1973). 

But the matter was shoved aside for the first Saturday of the season and signs were encouraging. The defence, consisting of Loovens and Sam Hutchinson, looked solid. It was an unusual feeling to see Wednesday defenders calmly intercepting through balls and nipping in with tidy tackles. 

Hutchinson, making a remarkable return after retiring four years ago and signing following a loan spell last season, simply looks a class act. He's clearly a player who reads the game well, can pass and play comfortably in defence or midfield, which he did in the second half. Like Majid Bougherra before him, I'd take a short spell with a classy defender like Hutchinson than a more dedicated long-term centre back lumbering towards the end of their career. The Owls are increasingly a club typified by their reliance on players at the club for short stints so we should embrace this positive.

The game itself was unspectacular. We were under the cosh in the opening stages but Brighton, spearheaded by former blue and white wizard Chris O'Grady, couldn't rustle up much on target. Likewise, Giles Coke's wonder strike came as a bolt from the blue, not least for my wife - attending her first Owls match - who was distracted by a kid coming past to go to the loo and missed it all together.

Seeing Wednesday through Anna's eyes was an interesting experience. She was puzzled by their choices in the final third; confused - as was I - as to how Nuhiu could be a professional athlete given his lack of pace and exasperated by the Owls' lack of ambition to seek a second goal even after Brighton had a man sent off.  And it definitely brought home that almost all of our songs are about United. Whether I'll convince her to come often I'm not too sure but the ever reliable funny, fun and vocal nature of our support seemed to make the day. That, and a trip to the shops in nearby Lewes. 

Ultimately it was a lucky win for Wednesday who were outplayed at times and lacked endeavour going forward. Stevie May's arrival from St Johnstone could be vital to an attack which lacked bite with the immobile Nuhiu short of swift players to bring into play while Gary Madine remains unproven at this level. But if the Owls can build on a defence which looked, at least in this match, more solid than in recent years, perhaps this could be a season to remember.

As for the takeover, I'm conflicted. Clearly the squad needs investment, and Hillsborough does too (the Amex's shiny facilities highlight this), but ceding control of our club to dubious overseas ownership with no link to the club does not sit well with me. I'm aware the realities of the modern game mean this second option is likely to happen sooner or later and the idea of this squad achieving promotion appears very fanciful. 

A promising start then, but plenty of questions over the future remain.