Main Menu
What's New
Waging war
Come the revolution...
By Ian Grant

First against the wall come the revolution? PEOPLE WHO FEED PIGEONS. Hnnngggggh.

Second against the wall? People who use the "it's a short career" argument to justify wage inflation within football.

It was announced yesterday, via Deloitte and Touche's annual review of football finance, that wage inflation ran at thirty five percent in the Premiership last season. Think about that for a moment, please - THIRTY FIVE PERCENT. You and I can only dream of such things. Wage inflation in most areas of the economy is currently running at approximately the level of high street price inflation, below five percent. Some aren't even getting that.

I should hardly need to point out that, despite merchandising, sponsorship and television revenue, ticket prices still seem to be remarkably closely tied to the upwardly mobile level of players' wages. So where does it stop? If there's a thirty percent difference between the rate of rise of my wages and a footballer's wages, and that thirty percent difference is also driving up ticket prices, it stands to reason that I'm going to find watching football increasingly unaffordable.

Enough is enough. At long, long last, we seem to have a mood of genuine concern within football and the media. That's a start.

But I'm not writing this to propose solutions. (Partly because I don't really have any. Partly because as long as the free market remains essentially unchecked within football, I don't believe that there's any chance of any kind of wage restraint, however necessary it is.) I'm writing this to demolish a myth.

"Football is a short career, easily terminated by injury."

That old chestnut. It was trundled out like a rusty tank by the PFA yet again yesterday, used to justify wages of thousands of pounds per week at top Premiership clubs. I'm sick of hearing it.

Football is indeed a short career. It is indeed easily terminated by injury. So?

The job-for-life industries have gone from this country, probably forever. Each of us will change employers on numerous occasions during our lives. We may well end up being unemployed for a bit. Chances are that we'll change our career at least once as well.

Get the picture? Footballers have somehow managed to create the illusion that they're in a unique profession, one that requires stock-piling as much money as possible before the age of thirty-five in order to survive the following thirty years of living a hand-to-mouth existence in a hostel for homeless centre-backs. My heart bleeds, fellas.

Most footballers will be required to change career when they've stopped playing (whether through injury or old age). Big bloody deal. As I've already said, most of us in The Big Wide Real World will also have to undertake a similar transition. Despite the grim pictures painted by the PFA, most footballers are unlikely to spend the rest of their working lives on the dole (although Chris Waddle's giving it his best shot). They get normal jobs, like the rest of us - oh, the poor dears....

Of course, the lower divisions are populated with players making a living out of the game as best they can. I don't doubt that, for many of them, a thirty five percent pay rise is the stuff of dreams, just as it is for you and me. Don't get me wrong - there are many very loyal, hard-working professionals within football who deserve great respect. Respect is different from sympathy and charity, though.

As for the Premiership stars, they're only getting what they can. If you don't ask, you don't get. What stinks, however, is that anyone should be made to feel guilty or stupid for objecting to the fact that wage rises are stacking up unaffordable losses for clubs and pushing up unaffordable ticket prices for supporters.

Perhaps removing this bizarre culture of sympathy for footballers and their career insecurity would be a useful first step towards wage restraint. Perhaps it would make no difference at all. Whatever, it would give me one less grievance to rant on about...and I think that's in everyone's interests.

Killing the atmosphere
By Ian Lay

I'll ask you a simple question....

Do you think the huge amount of money (£500,000 plus) that some chairmen of big businesses (like BT, the Halifax etc) earn are obscene and totally unjustified? I doubt that there are many people who will say "no". But these people have got to the position they are in through much hard work and being the best in the fields they are in (well, in most cases anyway). "So what?", I hear you cry. You will say that they they should have reduced wages and allow some of the lower paid people a bit of a higher salary. Where upon a couple of thousand a year could benefit some of the poorer people in this country, I doubt that the loss of that amount would worry certain fat cats.

We also hear the newspapers crying foul when these overpaid people get their 20%, 40% etc pay increases. So, why is it that when Mr Laudrup (and many others like him) sign a contract worth one or two million pounds a year no one is really concerned. Do you hear the papers complaining? No. Do you hear the fans complaining? Rarely. They are not seen as fat cats. They are seen as our hereos (to many of us anyway).

But it doesn't stop with football. What about golf and the millions Nick Faldo has earned over the years? Do we call him a greedy bastard? No. One reason may be that he openly gives money to charity. How many footballers do that?

What about pop stars? Oasis. for example, or the Spice Girls or R.E.M .... I could go on for ever.

Very simply things are out of control. But it isn't helped by newspapers that are hypocritical, and the readers who are exactly the same. I mean where is it going to stop? What will be next? A million pounds a game?

In my opinion, they need to adopt some sort of salary capping. Not on the individual players but on the team. A maximum wage for players is unfair and an outdated idea. For example, you could say that no team can spend more than, say, twenty million pounds a year on contracts for players. That way you can still pay some people ridiculous amounts of money, but if you do you will have to fill your side with utter dross to make up for it.

But would this work? Maybe, if you took into account player bonuses as well.

American football has a similar process. However, players re-newing their contracts can negotiate whatever level they like.

So who is to blame? The clubs? Well, a little. Those mad enough to agree to such high wages are part of the problem. In this case Bryan Robson has a lot to answer for. But the real culprits are the greedy players themselves and their agents. Just thinking of number one and not giving much thought to what problems it can cause.

And problems they do cause and people will suffer. None more so than the fans. There are many people out there out just don't go now because it is just to expensive. There are others who spend the little spare cash they have each week on football and therefore the other things they could do before are no longer possible because football eats up all their money.

Take, for example, a person who goes to a game at Watford. Once you add the price of a ticket, a programme, something to eat and a pint or two you are looking at around twenty pounds. And that's just one person. You can watch a whole day of test match cricket for less than that. A WHOLE DAY.

I did a swift calculation the other day and worked out that by the end of this season I will have spent over one thousand pounds on supporting Watford this year. This includes tickets, food before the game, beer, travel etc. Considering I will have seen fifty games by the end of the year that is an average of twenty pounds per game at least. I would expect the real figure to be a bit more.

Now I'm not one to endulge in excessive drinking before or after a match. One or two pints (sometimes a little more). And also go to most away games with a number of other mates in someones car which spreads out the cost of petrol. I also very rarely buy a program. So what would the cost of a father with his son, who go to every game for their team and travel on either club coaches or drive up, buy food, drink, a programme each, etc.?

It makes me shudder.

Put simply I am one of those people who will suffer most from the greed which is in football. In a few years time my little lad will be old enough to go to games. And the cost of seeing Watford regularly will become just too expensive. I will have to choose between getting season tickets and seeing only home games. Or not getting a season ticket and seeing a sprinkling of home and away games. In the end I will probably do the latter. I like away games, more so than home games. So if football clubs don't buck their ideas up there will be more people like me who will start walking away from their teams. Seeing less and less of them. But does that worry them? Of course not because the type of people going more and more to games are not your general run-of-the-mill working class kind of person. It's the middle class and above who are going more and more. They kill the atmosphere because they say nothing during the game and just sit on their seats like good little citizens.

Now I'm not critising all middle class people. Far from it. But unlike years ago when everyone could afford (within reason) to go to a football match, it is just not possible now for many people to go even though they are not classed as poor. Now doesn't that just seem a little bit unfair? Doesn't it seem that football is getting a little elitist? Let's hope not. Let's hope that clubs, players and those in power see some sense. Because if they don't then the type of people who can afford to go to games will make so little noise in the stadium they will have to use "canned" cheering.

Inflationary spiral
By Andy Barnard

Let's pretend that you and I are working for a company which is dependent on us and our thirty other workmates for practically all of its sales. The company hasn't made any profit for years, but somehow keeps going - mainly, it seems, by increasing its prices year after year to its customers who are always moaning on about something (if it's not the latest price rise it's the poor service) but who nevertheless stay ridiculously loyal.

Let's pretend we love our company, we love our customers, and that we'd be happy doing the job for half as much money. And now imagine the company is giving everyone a thirty-five per cent pay-rise because it's so scared we'll follow some of our brightest and best workmates who've been tempted away by similar companies who are offering even more money. What should we do? Should we refuse to accept the pay rise as a matter of principle? Should we go round the rest of our workmates trying to convince them all to refuse the extra money? Should we tell the company that it's daft paying so much and that it shouldn't worry about its best workers leaving? Should we tell the customers to threaten to take their custom elsewhere? Hmm, tricky one that.

Oh, and finally let's pretend that due to popular demand old Digger is coming back to the company in the summer - he's getting a bit past it after a dozen years up north, but (even after nobly accepting a pay cut) he'll be paid twice what anyone else is getting even after that extra thirty-five per cent. Oh sod it, let's just accept that we've got it made and comfort ourselves with the thought that at least we're not as "greedy" as him.

Right. Let's stop pretending now because that, basically, is how footballer's wages relate to ticket prices. Football companies (let's sanitise away the word "club", which for some people conjures up disturbing images of trawlermen and baby seals) are in competition with each other - not just for the next three points, but also for the players that are most likely to win them. Top football companies are basically bidding against each other for the top players. You can't "stop the madness" by banning agents or asking players not to be so greedy - the fact is that when clubs are falling over themselves to sign the latest stars it's the players who tend to come off best.

That's not new, of course, and neither is the average player's willingness to demand (or accept) more money. Neither for that matter is the fans' "blind" sense of loyalty. One thing that is relatively new is the "stupid and desperate" desire for success at all costs. As we're discovering, this doesn't come cheap. We all want success, and most of us are going to end up paying for it. Another relatively new thing is the multi-million pound bonus from TV for being in the Premiership. For the reasons explained, most of that money gets transformed straight into higher pay for Premiership players. So where will this inflationary spiral end? There could be a long way to go before it finds its level (and ultimately Man Utd and Liverpool are still likely to end up with the best and most expensive players). Let's take Ian Lay's example of a thousand pounds' outlay following Watford over a season. A £300 season ticket would still represent only thirty per cent of that. Suppose season tickets went up to - er - £600, or £30 on the day. That's still "only" 60 per cent of the thousand. Even that would work out at only about the cost of a pint of beer a day - and if it put Watford back in Europe, many of us would consider a price worth paying.

And what about those who can't afford it? As well as putting up prices, which any fool can do, the marketing side of WFC should also be working out an effective system of concessions at non-"Category A" matches, so that identifiable low-income groups (students, pensioners, kids) can see the team in action and so that the Vic's capacity is not wasted as it is at the moment.

But it won't only be those groups who won't be able to afford £600 a season - some people are already finding £300 too much. Frankly, the answer is to cut back - pay on the day when resources permit. Of course if you've got internet access you can already use it to stay in touch with all the news and gossip: increasingly, it looks like it'll give you decent coverage of live matches to. Of course it's not the same as being there - but take it from me (for whom a round-trip to the Vic costs more than a season ticket), it's a darn sight better than teletext.