New Article up on The Atheltic from Kieran Devlin Regarding the campaign. Pay per month website so incoming long post with the article for anyone interested.
Before Celtic were held to their 1-1 draw away to Hibs on Saturday, a section of the Celtic support – the fan group Bhoys – displayed a “Twenty’s Plenty” banner, with parts of the stand also peppered by smaller banners featuring the 20mph road sign being elbowed by a pound symbol.
It was a protest against rising away ticket prices in the SPFL and marked a continuation from Celtic’s previous away game in the league, at Hamilton, where the same group of supporters presented an “overcharging the fans/underselling the game” banner.
The protests both attracted support and provoked criticism from fans of other Scottish clubs. Some agreed with its fundamental message, while others took umbrage with the context around it; essentially contending that the Celtic support should get their own house in order and condemn their own club before condemning others, given Celtic have the most expensive away admittance in the league, with restricted view tickets in excess of £30.
On Monday, Bhoys took to Instagram to clarify the campaign’s objective and address the apparent loss in translation: “Football fans in Scotland are forced to continue to pay ever rising ticket prices. Yesterday, Celtic fans were charged £32 for the away match at Hibs.
“We will continue to push for a drop in ticket prices for ALL supporters and would encourage fans of ALL teams to lobby their clubs to force a change for the better.”
Despite the statement, discord and accusations of hypocrisy continued. In an email to The Athletic, Bhoys outlined the campaign’s ambitions in more detail.
“(Celtic’s) first away game at Motherwell was £30, and the first side to visit us at Celtic Park (St Johnstone) were to be charged £32 and £30 for restricted view tickets. In our opinion, pricing tickets for the product on show at £25 or £26 was already an unreasonable financial demand on supporters, never mind hiking costs every season.
“When considering the poor public transport system across the country and the price of public travel, your total matchday cost suddenly bypasses the £50 mark.
“We have various plans for the rest of the season, including displays at Celtic Park against our own club’s pricing for visiting supporters. There has been some blowback from fans of other clubs because the (displays) have taken place at away grounds and, unfortunately, have been taken out of context as individual criticism of these two clubs about their pricing for Celtic fans only. We had to start somewhere and concluded the best option was these two televised fixtures.
“We, the supporters, are our national game’s biggest asset. We cannot stress enough that the campaign is on behalf of all Scottish football fans, across all divisions, who are having their pockets dipped by our leagues and clubs. We are hopeful that supporters of other clubs will join us in our campaign and we can make a difference to pricing.”
Although the wealth disparity between Scottish, English and Welsh football is great, with the unavoidable issue of TV money hanging over any points of comparison, there are instructive parallels from down south, with Bhoys saying they’ve been “buoyed by the successes” of a similar campaign in England.
Michael Brunskill of the Football Supporters’ Association (previously the Football Supporters’ Federation, which merged with Supporters Direct last year), has seen all the partisan bickering before.
He participated in his organisation’s own Twenty’s Plenty For Away Tickets campaign for England and Wales, and recognises the suspicion dividing club fan bases — and the message being lost among the noise — from the original campaign’s own early travails.
“It was important to communicate with each other,” Brunskill says, “Between the different fan groups, to prevent resentment, to reach an understanding that fans don’t set the prices and to have a united front.”
The success of Twenty’s Plenty stemmed from putting aside tribal loyalties to focus on the bigger picture and the shared injustice being imposed by those from above; the pricing out of the average football fan from the game they love.
“Tickets at big clubs can be really expensive but fans themselves of big clubs aren’t rich,” Brunskill argues. “Manchester City may be run by billionaires but a normal fan who lives two miles from the Etihad isn’t rich. It’s not his fault. Everyone was in the same boat.”
The campaign, which began in January 2013, called on supporters from all levels of English and Welsh football to lobby clubs to reward the passionate support of away fans with a blanket £20 cap on away ticket prices. The emphasis was on inclusivity and uniformity, to not limit attention to the Premier League’s biggest culprits but focus it on every club asking too much from fans who’d already invested a significant amount of money, and time, into the trip.
“There’d been a lot of discussion about fans and ticket prices for a while,” Brunskill says, “In the Premier League but also beyond it, in the Championship and below. Large numbers of Championship supporters were getting mugged off.”
Given the rise in fan costs wasn’t exclusive relating to away tickets but also home tickets, food and drink, and perhaps most gallingly for impact on the wallet, rail travel, there was some debate over whether focusing on away ticket prices was the best approach, which Brunskill freely admits.
“It wasn’t an overnight success, there were lots of obstacles, and a lot of disagreements as well. Some fans maybe thought the price cap wasn’t the way to go – some thought each fan group targeting their own team and home tickets was best, or going for subsidised travel – whatever benefits we could get.
“We felt there was a gap for away fans to push through,” Brunskill continues, “that it was a more efficient way of lobbying clubs. When you’re a supporter of your own club, you’re critical of them and their pricing but it’s different – you’re paying for home ticket prices and it’s a different thing lobbying against your own club than for others, especially since you’re the only ones doing it.
“What we found, and it was a steep learning curve, was that it was useless trying to direct it at the league generally or at teams just when your own club is playing that team. It was better directing it one at a time through different fan groups. I felt there was an opportunity for us to act on it, and in a way taking on the clubs one by one through lobbying was better as it focussed us.”
The campaign was effectively a war on all fronts.
As well as protests inside the stadium, they staged marches and walk-outs, including a march on the Premier League offices in August 2014 under the banner “affordable football for all”. They publicised the campaign and the extortionate specifics, including Arsenal’s £62 tickets at the Emirates for a game against Manchester City in January 2013 in print and radio media, spread the message across fan bases via social media, blogs and fanzines, and utilised guerrilla tactics with relentless phone-calls and emails to people inside the clubs.
“We started emailing campaigns,” Brunskill says. “We found that was a way to get past the spam folder. We had board members with their emails clogged. They couldn’t find the email from an agent about a new striker because their email was so full of fans complaining about ticket prices.”
Brunskill is keen to stress that there isn’t a simplistic ‘good vs evil’ narrative at play here, that money-hungry executives aren’t hell-bent on squeezing fans for every penny they have. There are many within clubs who are sympathetic to the cause.
“It’s also useful having good contacts inside the club, because every club will have people who relate and understand the message and are supportive. There are good people who understand the money issues most fans deal with.
Some clubs even started away fans schemes, where they dedicated resources to supporting away fans in whatever way they can.”
Gradually, clubs such as Norwich and Swansea agreed to self-enforce away ticket caps, and one by one, the momentum behind the campaign snowballed. Others offered reciprocal pricing arrangements, including Cardiff, Derby and Liverpool.
The Liverpool fans’ group Spirit of Shankly, which campaigned separately from the FSF but with corresponding sentiments, adopted one of the axioms of Celtic’s European Cup-winning manager Jock Stein for a protest walk-out against rising season ticket prices: “football is nothing without fans”.
More than an inspirational one-liner for Facebook cover photos, it captured the defiance of both the Spirit of Shankly and the FSF campaigns, the indelible certainty and absolute truth that the business of football is in service to the interests of fans, and not vice versa. Implicit in the line is the sense of collective: “fans.” Meaning all fans. Every fan.
In March 2016, it was announced that at the start of the 2016-17 season, away ticket prices would be capped at £30 for top-flight fans for the next three seasons. Although some argue that the Premier League’s lucrative £5 billion TV deal at the time greased the wheels of the cap’s enforcement, and point out it was still £10 above what the campaign demanded. There was also no agreed cap for the Football League.
Yet, the legwork was only done, and the cap achieved, because fans grouped together to affect change.
“It wasn’t quite £20 but it was nice getting that cap,” Brunskill argues. “The most important thing was persistence and unity, and over time, the Premier League did listen and there were some executives that realised fans were more than just part of the balance sheets.
“In a way, it’s about picking your battles because this ticket price cap is only a small reduction in costs for a full day or weekend trip, but one that means a lot.”
It was announced in February of this year that the £30 cap that the FSF helped bring in would be extended for another three seasons.
Meanwhile, in August, UEFA agreed to cap away tickets for the Champions League and Europa League this current season, a maximum of 70 euros and 45 euros respectively. The decision stemmed from protests galvanised by Manchester United fans being asked to cough up £100 for tickets to the away leg of their Champions League quarter-final against Barcelona last season.
There are many precedents proving Bhoys’ campaign can force change, and grassroots action appears the most viable vehicle for confronting the disparity between fans’ disposable incomes and ticket costs.
Though the UK’s real wages – salaries adjusted for inflation – have shown a marginal increase in 2019, that has arrived after more than a decade of wage stagnation, during which time the cost of match tickets has outpaced the salaries of ordinary football fans.
In 2011, according to the BBC’s annual Price of Football study, the average cheapest season ticket in the Scottish top-flight was £228.91, compared to £302.42 in 2017. Likewise, the average cheapest away ticket was £18.92 in 2011, and £22.83 in 2017. With the 2019 Price of Football findings due later this year, the increases since 2017 are expected to be high.
The Price of Football survey has on multiple occasions over the past 10 years recorded that UK ticket prices have grown at double the rate of the cost of living.
Bhoys’ Twenty’s Plenty Campaign is intended to address this unfairness but as Brunskill advises, for it to succeed it needs an agreed message across all of Scottish football, and an agreed plan for collective action. Nothing positive can happen without Scottish fan groups deciding on a united front.
“Fans of different teams have to stick together,” he asserts, “because if you do get into the ground or are facing executives, it’s important to have a clear, together message.
“It’s really important fans don’t splinter.
Solidarity is the best thing to have on your side.”