Friday, March 14, 2014

The generation game

In light of my recent reading matter, Tony Collins' Sport in Capitalist Society, I'll admit I was initially sceptical about this excerpt from Adrian Tempany's book And The Sun Shines Now. With its self-confessedly rose-tinted jumpers-for-goalposts perspective on childhood and football in the 1970s, it begins in exactly the sort of fashion that might be expected to irk Collins - historically naive and misty-eyed reflections on mythical halcyon days before football became "modern". He also blots his copybook with his concluding remark, that football "has never been less about the culture of the people who shaped our football clubs" - Collins would argue that it was never really "the people's game", as it's often made out to be.

However, as the excerpt progresses, it's clear that Tempany has the stats to back up his argument that football has lost touch with a whole tranche of fans. On the one hand, all-seater stadia have made attending matches much safer and more secure for young children - but on the other, ticket prices are now so high they effectively prohibit teenagers from going once their parents are no longer prepared to fork out.

At one point Tempany makes reference to our club to illustrate his point: "the average age of Newcastle supporters at St James' Park in 2002 was 35; by 2012, that had risen to 45. These are the same Geordies, simply a decade older". It's a revealing statistic, and one that rings true when I recall how, as a 14-year-old, I went with a gaggle of friends to stand on the Gallowgate as we thumped Bristol City 5-0 during that record-breaking run at the start of the 1992/93 promotion season. Sadly, that's not something that would ever happen at a Premier League club now, and even further down the divisions ticket price increases have no doubt significantly outstripped inflation in pocket money.

So what's Tempany's solution? Look to the German model, essentially: low ticket prices, standing areas and positive age discrimination. Significant changes that would take considerable time, money and effort to implement - but should German clubs continue to thrive, you'd presume the likelihood of others elsewhere taking them as models for progress will increase.

One stat that leapt out at me was the fact that only one in five children ends up supporting the same club as their dad. I'd imagine the odds are even worse when you don't live anywhere near the club in question. Clearly I'm going to have my work cut out to bring Stan up to wear the black and white shirt...

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