The first time I walked into a stadium holding my dad’s hand I was a few years old, it was a warm Sunday afternoon and the sun shined in a crystal clear indigo sky. Despite the countless days and games that have passed since then—as a cliché as it may seem—I have vivid memories of everything that was going on in that day. I remember emerging from the stairs and admiring the vastness of the pitch, I recall the teams warming up, the referee’s whistle and how, as the game went by, my sight was caught by the vibrant men standing on the opposite side of the stadium.
Those men were jumping, yelling, cursing and chanting in so many different ways that none of them was distinctly comprehensible, yet, the unison at which they moved made them the beating heart of the stadium. As I understood few years later—when I first walked into those stands—for the span of the game those men did not exist. As they entered that sector, they ceased to be husbands, fathers, students, professionals and immediately became a unique entity bounded by the equally inexplicable passion for the same team. In such atmosphere football had an interclass unifying social function, inside stadiums you could find, standing shoulder to shoulder, the factory owner and its worker, the businessman and the clerk, the bourgeois and the proletariat. Football was an irrational, superstitious tribal demonstration, but that’s what made it so special.
Then money came in.
Throughout the last twenty years football slowly turned into a show business, with tycoons from all over the world and from different business areas—often with no genuine passion for the clubs—entering the sector and gradually exploiting football. At first, it was ‘pay per view’ television, which detached football from its holy temple. Deprived of its proactive role the supporter soon became a spectator, thus turning football into a show with no substantial differences from any other TV programme. Then came legislative repression, as if watching a game sipping a pint or smoking a cigarette would somehow threaten someone’s life. Eventually, it was the extortionate price of tickets, which priced out even the most ardent and loving supporters.
It is news of recent days that next year’s tickets for Anfield will reach £77, with fans’ boycotts and demonstrations expected. However, the protests over the excessive prices of home tickets have been consistent around the whole country, as phenomena like the Liverpool one are becoming predominant in the British Premier League. As honestly explained by Arsenal Boss Arsene Wenger, in the years to follow the extra television revenue for Premier League clubs will consistently be used to buy players rather than cut ticket prices, thus even further draining stadiums, until the point in which all supporters will be replaced by wealthy costumers.
Supporters who have held their place through thick and thin, people that were there in a cold rainy Wednesday night of a third round FA Cup game and that overpaid a ticket to watch a July friendly will have to say good-bye to one of the ‘loves of their lives’ in the name of ruthless profit making. City fans that had cheered their team when it swayed between Championship and Premier League, United supporters that witnessed Massimo Taibi poorly defending their goal, they all have been robbed of a precious part of their life, and will not likely have it back.
Now try for a second to imagine a stadium with no fans, with no chants, with no pathos, would it still be football? If those men weren’t there, if you didn’t have people cheering, yelling, crying for their teams, if they hadn't been there to witness an unexpected win or the umpteenth loss, then who'd be bothered about football, really?
In such a depressing context, I like to think of the Roma fans that in Barcelona—even though their team was down 6-1—kept on cheering their team, as one of the safeguards of this corrupted system.
Despite the money they might invest in players, trophies won’t buy passion.
Edoardo Tricerri writes for The Manchester Magazine on topics from sport to international politics. He is a Politics and International Relations student at the University of Manchester