by Ciarán Breen – @keep_score
Arsenal and Leicester recently served up one of the most dramatic games of the Premier League season but Arsene Wenger is wrong to decry ticket price protests and present football as escapism.
At his pre-match press conference before his team played table topping Leicester City on February 14, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was asked to share his thoughts on the ongoing ticket price protests. Wenger is an economics graduate and the English media love to pick his brain on everything from television broadcast deals to the price of oil and global politics.
On the protest planned by away supporters at the Emirates – fans planned to take their seats five minutes after kickoff but the action didn’t materialise – the Frenchman called on supporters not to miss “a moment of happiness.”
“Life is not every day fantastic,” he said, “Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s for many people difficult. Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don’t miss it.”
To present the match-day experience as an escape from daily stresses when it is the very cost of that escape that is at the heart of the current debate is naive at best, callously ignorant at worst. One of the reasons life is difficult for many people is the rising cost of both life’s essentials as well as its pleasures. If not fantastic, life would be a little less difficult for football fans if ticket prices were more affordable.
Indeed, some of Wenger’s comments suggested he shared this basic understanding. “You want the ticket prices to be as comfortable as possible.” he said, making a comparison between football fan’s loyalty and unavoidable domestic utility costs (see earlier economist note). “You are at home, you use electricity and you have no choice. They [fans] go to the club, they have no choice, it’s like a little bit their fate.”
The response should not be to point to the entertainment on the pitch and its value for money but rather to have a serious conversation about ticket prices and affordability for traditional football fans.
It’s hard to tell what Arsene wants. On the pricing out of local supporters, he said, “You want people who live around the stadium to be capable to go to the game. They are fans basically because they are born there.” On the one hand he says, you see, the entertainment is worth the money! Danny Welbeck’s 95th minute winner on Sunday was the ultimate vindication. On the other, his philosophical musings on life’s mixture of bliss and pain speaks to an empathy for the fans, whose loyalty is increasing expensive.
Imagine Wenger writing a match script for his players each weekend based on ticket prices.
— Ox, pretend you’re Gibbo and playing full back. Make a diving save with your hand. It’ll be great spectacle!
— Really? Are you sure boss?
— Yes, don’t you know how expensive away tickets are these days?
Of course, football has long been seen as an escape for the working classes. Indeed, the game flourished in the days when the weekend was only one day long and factory workers and miners would rise from their labour to galavant in attacking 1-2-7 and 2-2-6 formations. Wenger was merely following a long-held logic, in which Marx is often misquoted to say that football is the opium of the masses. The longest serving manager in the top four professional divisions in English football is asking fans to suspend their reality for 90 minutes. “The game is a joy and everybody has to be part of it. You can protest before and after but during the game you want everybody to be there.”
However, if the game is the means of production and the fans no more than consumers paying the market rate for the product on show, then to claim that going to the football is a moment of joy and happiness is like saying paying your electric bill at the of the month should give you a delightful rush to your head. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Arsenal’s last gasp victory was the Premier League at its thrilling best but Wenger is out of touch with fans in speaking out against match day protests.