Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket

Update to my last post and the Oldham Athletic Golden Ticket Debate...

Just under 4000 attended the last two home games since the famous "Golden Ticket, roll-up roll-up 5 games for £15", deal was in force for League One side Oldham. This attendance is up from 2500 the previous home game. The Tranmere game at the weekend was not in the deal, apparently, but talk of it seems to have revived interest in the club and the more worrysome games were the upcoming midweek matches.

This should therefore uphold the Oldham chairman's thoughts that action was required to improve attendances. According to his records, the home game against Walsall on Valentines night (never going to be a great attendance - fancy a trip to boundary park, love?) had an attendance tantamount to just a crowd full of season ticket holders.

However, the attendances have been on the slide since christmas, but most hover in the mid 3000s anyway, so it could be a case that 14th Feb was write-off for those who pay game-by-game, and the extra thousand fans (some of whom will be away fans) will now consist of a high proportion of people who would have attended anyway, but are now getting rock-bottom prices for a few matches.

The chairman, Simon Corney, did make a few salient points, other than those of ensuring attendances stay higher than 2000 for the player's sakes. The most telling was that of: "Kids are not going to go in to school and tell their classmates that they support Oldham Athletic - or any other team in this division. They would be laughed at. It has to be United, City or one of the other big guns....It is harder than ever to get youngsters interested in our club."

The youth then, appears to be the problem. Ageing crowds is a phenomenon repeated throughout the divisions - but seemingly for different reasons. The big guns are full with season ticket holders, who have held them for years and don't want to give them up, and the system of buying tickets weeks in advance (at high prices) is surely not one to appeal to the under 16s! The lower division teams are just not fashionable enough. (Some premier league teams aren't either, I'm unfortunately looking at you, Wigan)

I am not au fait with the various prices charged for admission at League 1 and 2 games - a trip last month to the hospital next to Boundary Park in Oldham informed me of the Latics prices (and I nearly ended up in A&E rather than the outpatients after seeing them!). However, a Dagenham & Redbridge fan tweeted to say his season ticket was barely worth the early big outlay - giving just a £17 saving over the season against the price of paying game-by-game. It would be interesting to hear more comparisons - and also to hear if other clubs are offering cut-price deals - if only to see how clubs are juggling the issue of rewarding loyalty and growing attendances.

As said last week, I think these deals will become more prominent, the clubs have to do something. But, in my opinion, the comments regarding youngsters should hit home hardest - the best deals should be aimed at them, thinking of the future. However, loyalty should not be treated with complacency.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Cheap Thrills in the Economic Downturn

 Oldham Athletic have just announced a move that will have their season ticket-holder's knickers in a reet twist.

An offer of a "golden ticket" for 5 home matches in exchange for the princely sum of 15 quid.

Now being of the grumpy and old persuasion, I am very much of the opinion that no football match (whatever level) should cost much more than 20 quid, so to my ears, this is something of a bargain - 3 quid a game! But should the long-suffering season ticket holders, who will have paid much, much more than that be upset about the move to entice a bunch of fair-weather, johnny-come-latelys at bargain-basement prices?

Restricted View - Spongebob Squarehead
(not Oldham, by the way - brownie point for a correct guess from all except Hippo who provided the shot and looked like a right "twit" in the process)

My first thoughts are - damn right they should be annoyed - spending hundreds a year out in one hit at the beginning of a new season with all the bright hopes and possibilities laid out on the road ahead. A few months in and most fans desires are scattered along the boulevard of broken dreams - but they have done their bit for the club, helping them with that initial cash boost to budget (hopefully) wisely along the course of the year.

They have provided such loyalty and then the club is offfering highly cut-priced deals to all and sundry. It's like all the best deals for insurance or mobile-phones or broadband going to new customers only and the long-standing customers plodding on.

My wife commented at this point, with the rather melancholic view that loyalty is never rewarded in this life....that could be with reference to a recent advertisement in her subscription magazine offering a wonderful gift for new subscribers only - it could, however, more worryingly be a thinly-veiled attack at the fact that after many years of sticking with me, her non-present on valentine's day was all she had to show...

However, chairman Simon Corney says he is going to reward the season ticket holder's loyalty in another way - so we can reserve judgment on that one.

He said: “This gesture is done for the club and for the fans, It is of no benefit to me personally as I will take a big hit financially.”

A recent blog post on the excellent "The Two Unfortunates" site then sprung to mind, where they were discussing the idea of reimbursing fans for poor performances.The loyal fans would be attending in any event - their loyalty and support is not for sale - they would support through thick and thin, and just have to put up with a few "noobs" for a small number of home games.

Click her for view on why loyalty and support is not for sale - from The Two Unfortunates website

They are going to have to look at the whole situation thus: this* could give team short term boost and make them a few extra fans or even bring some back in process - they would certainly be in a position to sell a few more pies.

Oldham are one club that will have it hard - there are lots of other small towns nearby with their own professional clubs, suffering the same difficulties - Rochdale, Bury, Huddersfield, Stockport - but within 12 miles or so are the giant Manchester clubs and then Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley and even the Merseysiders or Leeds not too far away. They need to entice locals that may never have thought of going at the usual price, but for the price of a pint a game....

Youngsters would be most targetted by this (and hopefully interested in it) - which can only be a good thing - cos there ain't no future without the yoot.  Clubs need to get the local kids following the local team somehow - even if it is with one lusty eye on another club higher up the scale (but geographically distant)

I think that season-ticket holders need to bite their tongue and endure the interlopers for possible good of club in long term? Perhaps they can assist in persuading them to continue attending - create a barnstorming atmosphere, make them feel welcome and who knows?

Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep things to ourselves, to think that our hometown clubs are a much better place to be without the noobs and day-trippers that are believed to plague the premier league - now is not the time to be all "grunge" about football. The game is in dire straits outside the sugar-daddied few....with even the likes of Rangers going in to administration, but Portsmouth, Coventry, Nottingham Forest, Darlington etc etc all suffering. (almost endless list..)

However, whilst there is a real need to try and come up with ideas to create more revenue and fight against the ever growing behemoth of the premier league big 4 or 5, there also comes the necessity for the money men in football to behave sensibly with the finances, live within means and safeguard the future.

Oldham's offer is not the first venture of its kind, it just happened to catch my eye this week, but the future of our game as it currently stands is in a precarious position - and deals like this, to try and capture even just one or two new regular fans, will probably have to become much more prevalent.

Click here for more info on the Oldham Athletic website


( * can I use thus: this in my writing?? - not entirely sure that it is in any way correct, but I like the way it looks - could be the name of an 80s electronica album? )

Friday, 10 February 2012

Come on, come on - 'urry up 'Arry, come on!

Good old, 'Arry, the man we all want to be England manager now that Fabio has been hounded out back to mediterranean shores, don't we?
This week's goings on have, to the conspiracy theorists, all been very convenient. But the football press certainly went into a frenzied overdrive, telling every reader just what they wanted - to the point where many a fan was decrying the fact that that terrible foreigner had ever taken charge in the first place.
With the press pretty much forcing the issue on this one, it is likely that Mr Redknapp will get the job - and with his very cosy relationship with the London Press, he should have plenty of room to breathe. I don't think for a moment that everyone in the country is crying out for him, but can you imagine how hard they will be on any other person who might get the job after all this?
Strange how the goalposts keep changing on all this, after the players had such a happy camper attitude under the rule of Sven and McLaren, Fabio was brought in with the edict to be a strict disciplinarian to get the squad in shape and more professional. However, as pampered "stars", they failed to respond in the correct manner and collectively spat their dummies out in the South Africa world cup.
Qualifying for both that world cup (and since, this Euro) was a breeze and the FA deemed fit to give Fabio a new contract BEFORE the world cup - in hindsight, that looks bad business, but at the time (and even now), his win rate was second to none.
Personally, I don't mind who gets the job - the press love-in with Redknapp will be farcical and pure pantomime to watch - but the FA needs to make a quick decision to give whoever gets the gig some time with the players before the Euros.

It all comes down to the players, though, doesn't it? If 'Arry can motivate them to pull their fingers out, then England may perform a little better - I'm just not sure that they do have the players, though. And is he the man to usher in a new era, or go back to old friends and family?And does he agree with John Terry not being captain? He has made great claims about how Daniel Levy and Tottenham stood behind him whilst his court case was going on - innocent until proven guilty - the FA stripped JT of the captaincy in the midst of his.
When Spain won Euro 2008, after a long time in the international wilderness, they had turned to the journeyman manager Luis Aragones. He had managed 8 clubs in Spain, some more than once, and had a poor world cup in 2006.
We all know what happened next - European Championship winners - why? Because Spain had just happened across a wonderful crop of young players. who were sweeping all aside at youth and U21 levels - it was then required for Aragones to find the formula to keep a lid on all the policital in-fighting within the Spanish team. Once won, Del Bosque took over and it was child's play to win the World get my point.
So, he will need the players - England's new crop could be a good start. Supposedly 'Arry is a wonderful man-manager and this main strength may be what can push England forward - it will be intersting to watch how the media respond, should that not happen!
Couple of wonderful articles linked below on the subject...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bromance - a footballing love affair

There are many things in modern football that I don't get on with.

I still put myself through the experience daily, as do most of us - listening to phone-ins, reading comments by people who believe football was invented in 1993; believing the hyperbole that sky etc. feed us throughout the season; supporting modern-day footballers with their modern-day hairstyles, chest waxes and agent's transfer requests; I annoyingly still get some excitement at the transfer gossip that does the rounds. (Most of which is now completely made up, as by the time we fling open the window to let a fresh breeze containing new signings and outgoings on it's thermals, we will have totally forgotten the tosh written in the tabloids linking our team with the new maradona and such like 6 months ago. Conscience-free bull from the papers, then - oh, hold on a minute...conscience?)

I am also becoming ever more fatigued and bad-tempered at the constant baracking that referees have to endure - there are some bad decisions, naturally, but increasingly the slightest errors of judgment are being made, when they have one split-second to see everything around them, and a bunch of pundits, who have 20 different camera angles, slow-motion and numerous replays to assist them are berating them for their failures.

So, with this (and much more) in mind - I thought I would instigate a group hug in this post, and talk about a little bit of footballing bromance. (although this does not, of course, exclude female fans in any way at all - read on!)

Young "Finn", the knee-surfing dude I work with is a Manchester United fan. But he has a bit of a thing for Jermaine Beckford. It seems to stem from his rather excellent goal against Chelsea last season, for Everton. We had been discussing goals, and he chirruped up with this gem (link below) and it was all "Jermaine.." this and "Jermaine..." that and "come on Beckford, my son".

It got me thinking.

Being a fan of a Premier League club - particularly one that has been regularly in the Champions League - has thrown up the rather fortunate scenario of seeing some of the world's best players in the flesh. Throughout the years, United have afforded me the chance to regularly watch players of the calibre of Robson, Hughes, Cantona, Giggs, Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo etc. -and as football fans in general, we have all fluttered our eyelashes towards the likes of Zidane, Figo, Old Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta -even Henry and Drogba - you know the names.

Just underneath that layer, where admiration lies, there are other players that turn your head as a football fan.We know they may never play for our team, they may never have anything to do with them - they may play against them at one time or another, possibly for the enemy - but we can't help having an unhealthy obsession - a footballing crush, if you like.

Mine was one Gabriel Omar Batistuta.
Football Italia on Channel 4. Some great names graced our screens during the halcyon days of the nineties, when C4 tried to open our minds to more exotic wares than English football. For me, Batigol was head and shoulders above any.

It was not just the skill, the goals, the long, flowing, gladiator-like hair, but the stories that came with it. Fiorentina's brightest star, he stuck with them in 1993 when the club slid in to Serie B and returned the club to Serie A one year later. He then stayed on through the nineties, scoring a total of 168 goals for the club and had a statue erected in his honour outside the Stadio Artemi Franchi, with the rather fantastic, also gladiator-like inscription: "He is a warrior who will not surrender - who is hard in the fight, but fair in his soul."

The man also deigned to make my footballing dreams true one night at Old Trafford in the Champions League. So often, your heroes let you down. We go to the game in the hope of seeing the extraordinary. Of seeing something that we would not be able to do without an xbox or ps3 pad in our hands. Batigol repaid my faith in spades, with a superb goal for Fiorentina that cemented my unrequited love and provided some sort of closure at the same time. I stood facing the goal, mouth agape (you tube link below, also - of the goal, not my dropped-jaw!). (He even was gentleman enough to allow United to come back go on and win the game).

As I say, we have all had our flirtations. But not all players can cut the mustard when it comes to making the perfect companion - take Gabriel's fellow countryman Diego Maradona. Unarguably brilliant, one of (if not THE) greatest of all time. We do, however, know far too much about the man and his failings to have a true, pure, footballing crush on him. Could his one abiding and immense talent overcome those failings? - our mum would tell us to stay well clear ;-)

So, who is it? Is it the likes of Jermaine Beckford, grafting away and supplying a beautiful footballing moment for all to revel in, or the likes of Batistuta  - admittedly firmly one of the best players of the last 20 years, with that touch of class to elevate him above. A former player that has moved on and you have followed his career ever since?

Finn the knee-surfer dude and I can't be the only ones, surely?

Who is your footballing crush?