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Friday, 10 January 2014

Charity begins in Munich

Bayern fans pay less for tickets so they have more money to buy shite like this

If there’s one thing that makes for a popular feel-good story in football, it’s the ‘gesture’. Not the Theo Walcott-style ‘gesture’ for, though very funny, it incites small-minded idiots and that would never do, but the grand sort of gesture that generally ends up in players or clubs giving fans money.

Step forward Bayern Munich, swaggering into the spotlight like Magic Spongers on a karaoke night with the announcement that they would offer the 2,974 fans lucky enough to be allocated tickets (from an application pool of 18,000) a reduced price, costing the club almost £75,000 in the process.

“Both in the past, as well as in the current season, Bayern have thrilled the world of European football not only by the outstanding performance and consistency of our team, but also by the fantastic and vocal support of our fans”, fanfared a statement, written by someone that we shall henceforth be referring to as Captain Smugwash. ‘Look at us, we’re SOOOO good’, it might as well have said – which, as it happens, is the reason for all this coming about in the first place.

Given that their fans have had to travel to London, Prague and Marrakech for finals alone over the last eight or nine months, Bayern will pay €30 (£25) of the €75 (£62) per person that it will cost fans to go to the Arsenal game. And that, whichever way you look at it, is pretty good. And pretty rare, being brought about as it has by the trappings of being good at football (necessitating more matches and spending more money) and not – as is customary in England, being crap while playing miles away from home or undone by poor organisation, referees and bad weather.

There are a couple of issues under the microscope as a result, specifically that a) going to watch football costs a bloody fortune in this country and b) in the polar opposite of Bayern’s rationale for reimbursement, you only get anything back from your club when they’ve played crap, normally in times of desperation, relegation and crap performances, when they are actually less able to afford it.

It’s brought Arsenal’s ticket prices, notoriously the steepest in the country, under further scrutiny, especially with the club announcing a further 3% increase in December last year. But the stadium isn’t empty, so it’s unlikely Arsenal are bothered. And protests inside the ground are a little like complaining you’ve put onion in your apple crumble after it’s gone in the oven. And then eating it anyway and continuing to moan.

One of the biggest proponents of ‘being crap’ recently have been West Ham. Couched in cries of “too bloody right”, the Hammers have decided to reward their hard-suffering lot by doing the classic ‘kids for a quid’ scheme for the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi final against Manchester City. Six goals down to one of the best sides in Europe after the first leg may not be ideal circumstances for attending your first live game but then again you get bugger all for a quid these days and in these recession-hit, Tory-shafting times, kids could do worse than learn the hard way that you get what you pay for.

Furthermore, £10 away ticket discounts offered by the club for trips to Stamford Bridge, The Britannia and The Stadium of Light are also a decent way to reward those hardy folk who know full well they are wasting their hard-earned cash but have been unfortunate enough to fall in love with a club that does tend to have its hard times. In sickness and in health an all that.

Ultimately, that’s what it all boils down to. Love of the game and love of the club. It is unconditional, for most. Wholly irrational too. And yet we remain powerless, as fans, to do very much about it. It may take an owner changing your shirt from blue to red, or one who sells your ground to property developers, or one who sells your best player to a rival club in the summer, to compel a fan to stay away but it never lasts*. In Britain, at any rate. It’s as yet unclear what happened to these precious Milan fans.

While most clubs in this country are too skint to subsidise tickets a la Bayern Munich, or to dissolve season ticket ‘agreements’ a la Milan, fan loyalty is never recognised more than by fellow fans, which made the decision of Bournemouth fans to raise funds for Burton Albion supporters to re-make the 300-mile round trip to the south coast following the last minute postponement of their FA Cup third round tie so heart warming. Although an initial target of £800 was proposed to pay for Burton fans to travel to Dean Court, the cherries actually raised nearly £3,000, leading initiative organiser David Whitehead to coo: "It shows there is another side to football. They were so hospitable that day [when Bournemouth clinched promotion at the Pirelli Stadium back in 2010] that there's been a special feeling between the clubs ever since."

A cop out to end on a feel good story from the lower divisions? So what. We hope you are watching Arsenal.

*Speaking of cop outs, for more stories on this vein watch this space for our new book 'Falling For Football: Teams that shaped our obsession', coming very soon and featuring such brilliant talents as Andi Thomas, Greg Theoharis, Ian King and many, many others.

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