They used to call it the people's game - but not anymore. In this insightful, witty and ultimately damning look at modern football culture, lifelong fan Matthew Bazell asks why no one's singing anymore.
In a uniquely personal journey, Bazell examines the way in which football, both on and off the field, has changed since the formation of the Premier League, and looks at the passive consumerism thrust upon fans. Does the modern follower pay too high a price for the spectacle of seeing over-paid world superstars in comfy all-seater stadiums, whose very name can be sold to the highest bidder? If so, can anything be done to reclaim the game?
We (fansonline.net/arsenal)caught up with Matthew and did asked him a few questions....
Firstly, thank you for taking time out to do this interview, Can i ask what was your first game over The Arsenal ?
My first game was 1986 when we played Everton. As a kid I was just becoming interested in the game and thought that Everton were great, which they were at that time. Everton won the game 1-0, but on that day my heart went in favour of The Arsenal and I started supporting us from that point. I loved the red and white, I loved the cannon, I loved Highbury. By the way, the adult ticket price for that game was £4. By 2006 the same ticket was £39.
Do many of the family/friends you first started going games with still go ?
No. My Dad used to take me but he hasn’t gone since it started to become hard to get in. He hasn’t been to the Emirates yet. People have to remember that Highbury was the best value ground in London and normal people were not priced out. When my Dad took me to away games like QPR or Palace it was usually pricier than at Arsenal. My brother is a fan and would go but he won’t pay those prices and he thinks it’s too corporate. My uncle used to play for the reserves but he can’t be bothered to go anymore. Fathers used to take their sons to football, some can’t afford to do that anymore, and yet now football is considered a family game. I think it was far more of a family game in the years gone by.
What impact do you think the Taylor report and all-seater grounds has really had ?
Huge. It’s the issue. I dedicate a piece to it in the book. If I could change one thing about the game it would be to re-introduce terraces. I miss them bitterly. Nothing beat the old North Bank, not even the Clock End! Buy the time of the seats I went to Clock End though as it was a bit livelier. The seated North Bank is a stand I never really felt attached to in any way.
What impact do you think seating and pricing has had on the younger fans growing up in Islington ?
Well put it this way. On a home match day you see loads of kids out in Islington wearing Arsenal shirts. There’s something really absurd and tragic in that. They have the shirt but don’t go to the games. If anything sums up what’s wrong with football today that does. The kids in the area are still Arsenal fans but spiritually the club’s distant. When I was a kid in the 80s and 90s a ticket for the juniors cost me between £1 and £3. Save a few quid on the dinner money and that was all you needed! I do hope that a lot of young people will read my book because they need to hear the other side of things; a contrasting opinion that disagrees with the notion that the Premier League is the best thing since sliced bread. 3 teams have won this league since 1995 – that’s not great, that’s average and predictable.
In the ideal world what do you think the cheapest priced seats should be for a game over The Arsenal ?
£10, £20 and £30. Some people might sneer at that but I think it’s proportionate to the entertainment that football provides. If you consider the tens of millions the club’s make from things such as TV and advertising, then ticket prices should have actually decreased in the last twenty years.
Are the changes in moden football just down to ticket prices ?
No but it is the biggest factor. The most important chapter of Theatre of Silence is called Value for Money and focuses on this issue. I don’t understand how people can pay those prices, especially in this economic climate. Just think of all the music and DVDs you could buy for the price of the cheapest season ticket at the Emirates. There’s been a lot of changes to the game that are not directly related to ticket prices, such as playing music when a goal is scored. Whose idea was that? Let’s replace the sound of a crowd cheering with the Tom Hark song. Hang the DJ.
What could clubs do now to keep hold of their traditional fanbase ?
They’ve already lost their traditional fanbase. It’s more a case of what could they do to win us back. Here’s some suggestions.
1. A big reduction in ticket prices
2. A return to terraces which is something that the government is looking into but which the clubs oppose.
3. Less aggressive stewarding.
4. Less corporate branding and a return to the class that a club like Arsenal once had. Also that bridge should have been named after someone like David Rocastle, not a major shareholder like Fizman who made far more out of the club than what he put in. Nor should it be named after Ken Friar. Is Friar really more important than the likes of Ted Drake, Cliff Bastin and Bertie Mee? Those boys on the board seem to have a very big opinion of themselves.
5. A total ban on fat American ladies who wear pink hats and grass up other fans.
Here’s the main point though, does a club like Arsenal care about winning back the original fanbase, or does it care more about attracting a new type of consumer?
Do you think pricing is linked to atmosphere ?
Yes and I also think that there are two other big issues. Firstly, those pricks in orange jackets. The stewarding is far too heavy handed. I’ve a little section of the book dedicated to those traffic cone lookalikes. The second issue is what we touched on before – all seater stadiums. An atmosphere comes from knowing the people around you. For the best atmosphere you need large areas where people know eachother and can stand together. We grew up with that culture as the norm; now it seems like such an unrealistic thing to want for.
How do you think the lack of homegrown players has had an impact ?
I think that overpaid players in general have created a distance between them and us. In terms of nationality, we all loved the likes of Pires, Bergkamp and Viera. They were Arsenal men 100%. I think it’s the lack of heart and team spirit rather than where they come from. I look at the England team today and do not relate to them anymore, and yet they’re all-home grown, even though Rooney looks like he was born in a zoo. On a positive note a few more home grown players are now starting for us which is really nice to see.
This is the 2nd edition of the book, whats different to the first book ?
A red cover instead of a blue one! Is that not good enough…okay, it’s also got new chapters, updates, pictures, re-writes, plus a guest chapter from John Lydon. This is the football book with a Rotten edge. Lydon’s chapter is about the lost community of football. He’s an Arsenal fan and grew up on the road which faces the Emirates.
John Lyden has written a chapter in the 2nd edition, how did he get involved ?
By pure good fortune. I wanted Lydon to write a chapter after seeing a youtube video of him shouting abuse at the Emirates. I didn’t know how to contact him. Then one day I found myself in the pub drinking alongside his manager. Rambo, who like Lydon lives in America, is a well known face at Arsenal with a tough and fearless reputation. I put forward a proposal – I quickly got told to bugger off! A couple of weeks later, Rambo then read the book and had a change of heart. A year later I was given permission to phone Lydon and we worked out a chapter. He’s perfect for this book but I’m still humbled that he’s involved. And he never asked me for anything in return. People have accused him in the past of selling out. In my brief experience with Lydon I don’t think he’s money motivated. I think he just goes for stuff that he’s in to. He got slated for the butter advert, but all that money went into funding PILs last world tour. Rambo is also a really good guy once he trusts you and you get to know him. I thank them both for what they’ve done for the second edition.
Finally where can people get hold of this book ?
It’s now available for pre-order from amazon and is released fully on 27th October (amazon still has copies of the first edition but the one to buy is the one with the red cover not the blue). Waterstones will stock it as well, but maybe not in every store (the Waterstones stores in the West End will usually have signed copies). Every now and then I’ll be around the Holloway Road on matchdays flogging them off myself.
Thank you again Matthew and good luck with the book.
Link to buy the book > http://www.amazon.co.uk/Theatre-Silence-Matthew-Bazell/dp/190349057X/ref%3dsr_1_2?ie=UT...
The facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/She-Wore-A-Yellow-Ribbon-The-Arsenal/104388128002?ref=ts ) will be running a competition on Thursday to win a signed copy of the book.