As a teacher, I have good days and bad days. When I have a bad day, I often ask myself ‘what is my purpose?’ Professionally, I know that the answer to this question is “to help children become rounded, happy, confident and well-informed young adults who are ready to question the world their grandparents generation have shaped.” It can be easy to lose sight of this in the heat of the moment but, upon reflection, I use this to guide my actions and inform my practice.
My question to you, UEFA, is “what is your purpose?” Do you ever consider this question? Or have you lost sight of it in the attempt to satisfy your insatiable hunger for money? The thing with money is that, no matter how much you have, it’s never enough.
Is your purpose to ensure that the unique sport of football preserves its identity and culture in a world of increasing globalisation? In this respect, you have failed too. Fans at football matches do not want to be told when to sing or what to sing and your superbowlification of the game is neither enhancing nor welcome. The extra 350€ you were charging to watch France v Romania due to fifteen minutes of disjointed kaleidoscopic dancing and David Guetta-life before the match is not good value to a football fan.
Is it to ensure that football at grassroots level is flourishing in all countries at all levels? How much money is set aside for rural and deprived communities to have football facilities and coaching that, increasingly, only the middle-classes can afford?
Is it to ensure Financial Fair Play? The same Financial Fair Play that you made a rather extended song and dance about, ensuring that clubs live within their means, yet billionaire-backed clubs openly flaunt these rules without receiving more than a warning as admonishment.
Is it to ensure that football remains a sport accessible to all? When staging EURO 2016, did it occur to you that fans travelling to this event would be spending a lot of money to enhance this event? Fans pay inflated prices for transport, accommodation and food throughout the tournament and do so because they have no choice. “Football First” and “Grassroots and Solidarity” are two of your values About UEFA. Football fans make these tournaments even more than the players do and deserve to be treated with your buzzword: Respect.
Is it ‘respectful’ to ask fans, citing the Welsh as an example, who have lit up your tournament and supported French business, to pay 495€ for a ticket to watch their team play Portugal? Many fans are using unpaid holidays, spending time away from family and emptying their savings in order to get to the tournament in the first place. The least you could do is make the tickets more moderately priced ensuring that real fans can attend.
Bayern Munich recently issued a statement saying that making the ticket prices more expensive was small-time and terrible PR. They figured that the few million they don’t receive in ticket money comes into the club in other ways as a function of this reduction: loyalty; merchandising income;passionate backing. I could buy a Bayern Munich season ticket for three years and spend the same amount as buying a ticket to watch Portugal v Wales.
Football without fans is nothing. This attempt at gentrification and pricing ordinary fans out of the game is one of the many reasons an increasing number of fans boo your Champions League anthem. For an organisation whose former President is suspended for corruption and who espouses the virtues of Financial Fair Play, ripping off the people who prop up the sport – your sport – is contemptible.
Perhaps in the ivory towers of Nyon, where 495€ isn’t even enough to stuff an envelope, you cannot see your impropriety. As we approach uncertainty over future tournaments (Russia(?), Qatar(?) and the next Euros looking like a diffuse series of exhibition matches), many real fans were desperate to come to a proper tournament. Look after fans and you look after football. That is, after all, your purpose.