Concession time

I’ll admit it straight up. I am a football tourist. As well as my season ticket at West Ham, I regularly go and see my local team, Hornchurch, and I go abroad at least once a year and watch a game, usually in Germany.

I love the atmosphere, the feeling of what football should be like, with the fans still experiencing fair pricing on tickets, beers, food and merchandise. Tomorrow I will head out for a few days in Germany, not only to watch England in Frankfurt, but also take in games between other nations in Dusseldorf and Dortmund.

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I love it. So, this isn’t an anti-tourist rant. I love seeing the Mexican shirts, and the Sparta Prague shirts that we now regularly see on match day. This is a rant on the Premier League, on the London Stadium, on our Head of Ticketing, but mainly at David Sullivan and Karren Brady. Here we go…

When West Ham United announced their season ticket prices at the end of March, there was a lot still going on. The team’s form was petering out in the league but hope still remained we could overcome the unbeaten soon to be German champions, Bayer Leverkusen. Hidden in amongst the guff advertising ‘A Seat Like No Other’, without a hint of irony considering the state of our athletics stadium, was not only a second consecutive price rise across the board, but something much more sinister. From season 2024/25, the club will no longer be selling new concession seats in bands 1-4.

Now for those not familiar with the stadium layout, the other two bands, which will continue to offer new concession seating, are up in the gods. These seats are so high you need an oxygen mask and a pair of binoculars to complete the experience. So basically the club are stopping mums and dads bringing their younger children along, they were stopping new parents from bringing their first children to games, and just as insulting were telling all long-term season ticket holders turning 66 this season that their reward for years of loyal support is either pay full price where you sit, or prepare for a weekly jaunt up hundreds of steps to the seats located in the roof.

The club didn’t even have the bollocks to put this in the literature upon release, so it was hidden away, showing a complete disdain from David Sullivan and Karren Brady for the so called ‘legacy’ supporters of the club. It drew a line in the sand of which there may be no return. However, with some key matches remaining and a send off to our most successful manager since John Lyall, protests and complaints had to wait.

Now this may not affect every person at the stadium this year. My dad gets to keep his Over 66 ticket in Band 3. I can’t convince my daughter to join me and my son at games just yet. So it doesn’t directly affect me or my family at the moment. But it is going to affect hundreds, if not thousands of our fans this season, and then many more from here on out.

How can the club square it away that if somebody new moves into the block near me, they will have to pay four times as much for a kids ticket as I do for my son with the same view? How can they tell those people who have done the hard yards, have followed us to Rotherham, to Crewe, to Plymouth over the last god knows how many years, that their reward for their loyalty and dedication is the withdrawal of a to-be-expected reduced ticket price when they hit pension age?

It is abhorrent, it is grim, it is potentially the final nail in the coffin for the large section of the supporter base who have kept this club going and propped it up through difficult times. Through relegations in 1978, 1989, 1992, 2003 and most recently in 2011. Through the Bond Scheme, near financial oblivion in the late 2000s, through a stadium move where much was promised and not much was delivered. Through the sales of cherished Academy players and the loss of a team of future England players that could only happen at this club. Through regular embarrassments by the current custodians.

Without us, there wouldn’t be a Premier League club that has just enjoyed three straight years in Europe for the first time in its history.

So how have we got here? How are we suddenly becoming forced out of our own club, out of an unloved athletics stadium, by a supposed West Ham-supporting owner? When David Gold and David Sullivan purchased a stricken West Ham United in 2010, there was hope from within the fanbase that despite the hatred of the pair from the blue side of Birmingham, the owners being supporters of the club would build bridges with a disenfranchised fanbase and drag the club out of the deep mess the Icelandic owners had left it in.

Then they appointed Avram Grant and got us relegated, which should have been the signal that this might be a bumpy ride. After years of unrest over a stadium move from a much-loved home to a rented athletic stadium, the antagonistic behaviour of the Baroness, multiple scrapes with relegation and a 10,000-strong protest, things started to settle down thanks largely to David Moyes and his brave, determined and at times thrilling team. However, they have come back with a vengeance in the last 12 months.

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Last year, the club not only raised season ticket prices at a time of a cost of living crisis and following a difficult time for the country after the COVID pandemic, they also became one of only two Premier League sides to raise the age of the senior concession tickets from 65 to 66. Murmurs were made from the fanbase, but with the joy of Prague still in the air, the noise faded, and it was irritatingly accepted.

Roll on 12 months and we now stand at a defining moment in the club's history. But more confusingly, this is being carried out by so called advocates of "affordable family football". I will pass over to our club’s custodians for the following words:

"We would offer tickets at £5 a go for some matches. We can bring Premier League football back to the people" - David Sullivan, April 2012.

"It is not a simple case of introducing an attractive pricing strategy, that is key, but it must be supported by the product and work in tandem with the need to retain and reward seasonal supporters. Since we became involved in football, David Sullivan, David Gold and I have been committed to offering affordable football to all" – Karren Brady, September 2013

"We have always said that the move to our magnificent new stadium would be a game changer for West Ham: a chance to increase revenue, invest in the team and improve our performance on the pitch, but crucially without putting an extra financial burden on the supporters who already come to watch every home match" – Karren Brady, April 2015

"In addition, the club are continuing to offer concession and junior rates in Bands 1, 2 and 3, as part of our ongoing commitment to providing affordable family football at London Stadium" – Karren Brady, March 2017

Now considering David Sullivan also said he wanted to be able to allow "an old fella to go and watch football for a fiver", this recent attack on the support is increasingly unhinged. We are used to Brady and her attacks on the fanbase, her attempts to divide and conquer, her refusal to have any sort of meaningful dialogue with independent supporter clubs. But for her to sign off on this concessions assault, so soon after COVID, when it showed just how miserable the product is without legacy fans, is beyond belief. And don’t forget in amongst all this money grab is the fact the club pay next to nothing to rent the stadium, at great cost to the taxpayer.

This isn’t just a West Ham thing of course. This is borne out of the monetisation of the English top flight. For all the wonderful talent it has bought to the league, for all the Payets, Paquetas and Arnautovics we have got to watch at our club, the league is trying to leave behind its roots. This is the result of years of mounting greed at English football’s top table. This is what happens when you let dodgy Russian money in.

This is what happens when you let nation states in. This is what happens when the sport is Americanised, where ridiculous money is charged for all aspects of the sport in NFL, MLB, NHL and the NBA, so we have to do it in the world’s most popular league now. This is what happens when you spend years attempting to destroy the football pyramid, despite it being the one thing that has been holding English football together forever.

We now have a chief executive in charge of the Premier League who is actively trying to take English games abroad, who is campaigning against the much-needed football regulator. Our fellow fans across the league are being exploited. Fulham have been fighting for years against ridiculous ticketing prices at the quaint but lively Craven Cottage. Tottenham fans, trophy-less in sixteen long seasons, are paying as higher ticket prices as anyone and are also fighting against the loss of all senior concession tickets, again the very fans who followed that club through years of underachievement.

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Liverpool fans, who know a thing or two about fighting the elite, have staged regular protests over excessive price rises. It is happening everywhere. If they can get rid of legacy fans, they are free to do what they want. After all, when I go to football, I buy beer and not a lot else. My season ticket stops the club from selling individual tickets to tourists each week. Tourists love spending money. They will spend a couple of hundred quid on shirts and scarves and other items of merchandise. They will buy food at ridiculous prices. They are where the money is.

However… if the worst case scenario happens and Julen Lopetegui can’t get a tune out of the team this season and they were relegated, what happens then? The tourists won’t want to see a stripped-down West Ham side, shorn of Kudus or Guilherme or Bowen. They won’t be turning up on a Tuesday night in December at home to Oxford United at a half-empty athletics stadium. They will be down the road at Stamford Bridge, or the Emirates, or the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. They won’t be spending money on overpriced claret and blue shirts. They won’t be flying in to see Soucek, or Coufal slogging it out in the second tier.

But crucially… will we? Will those being frozen out? The club’s short-sighted new ticketing policy will backfire spectacularly. The once great club will fade into obscurity and could potentially spend years outside the top flight, like Leeds United did, like Nottingham Forest did, like Sheffield Wednesday did. What else have those great clubs got in common too? They dropped even further into the third tier, a level West Ham have never been at. This may seem like an unlikely scenario, but with the Premier League becoming more and more competitive outside the top six, there is every chance one bad season could bring Armageddon.

And where would I be? Well, if the club don’t revoke their disgraceful concessions decision and don’t draw the line at above inflation and greedy price rises, I won’t be renewing after this forthcoming season. Having finally seen my team win a major trophy at the age of 38 last year, my need for that one, hallowed trophy has been quenched. And frankly I know when I am not wanted.

I also know where I am wanted. At Hornchurch in the sixth tier of English football. £15 a ticket from next season, a beer in hand while actually watching the game. And a five minute bus ride home. No more stop/go boards of death, no more £7 pints, no more shirts for £75, no more £9 hot dogs. No more engineering works every bloody weekend. It won’t be the same as seeing my team play Manchester United, Liverpool or Spurs. But it will be on my terms, and with people who actually want you there. That sounds good to me. I can also still go and get top flight football on my usual treks to Germany.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Wolverhampton Wanderers fans have shown the way this summer. After crippling season ticket price rises, the fan base sprang into action. A petition followed, and 15,000 signatures later, the club have rowed back on some of the changes. It isn’t perfect, but it shows that things can be changed. Wolves, like us, have no god given right to dine at the top table of English football, and their fans have been through the ringer over the years. They simply refused to let their club, built on fans heroes such as Billy Wright, Stan Cullis and Steve Bull, price out the working class. They fought and they won.

So what can we do? Simply, join Hammers United. The brilliant and largest independent supporters club representing West Ham United fans. And not only join them, protest with them. There will be more to follow on that front, but in the meantime, sign this petition against this immoral price rises and concession removals. (It is important to point out too that although Hammers United are promoting the petition, it wasn’t set up by them.)

At the time of writing, over 5,500 have already signed. Let’s get that number even higher. Let’s get the word out to the press. And if Brady and Sullivan still don’t listen, let’s protest all next season. Outside the ground. Inside the ground. In the away end of the other 19 clubs.

Personally, I have always been a fan of the thousands of tennis balls being thrown onto the pitch that has been used by German fans to protest any attempt at greed getting in to the Bundesliga. But I will leave all this in the capable hands of Hammers United. Protest is coming. We mustn’t let Brady and Sullivan win. The legacy fan is the lifeblood of this club. But this is one legacy fan that will be gone if we can’t fight this attack off.

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