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‘Stop exploiting our loyalty’

Liverpool fans are right to protest against ticket prices at key moment, JAMES NALTON says

AS LIVERPOOL prepared for their Europa League quarter final first-leg against Atalanta on Tuesday night, there was something noticeably different about the Kop end at Anfield.

It looked bare. The players were not met by the array of flags that usually accompany the pre-match rituals and rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

It wasn’t the Kop as we know it. But that was the point.

A lone banner bearing the words “no to ticket price increases” emerged as the seconds ticked down to kick off. Then a smaller banner reading “FSG greed” appeared alongside it.

This was why the usual flags and pre-match flourishes were absent. It was a protest against a rise in ticket prices.

Liverpool supporters’ groups Spion Kop 1906, who are the main organisers of the displays seen on the Kop; the LGBT+ fans group, Kop Outs; and the Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union, came together to oppose ticket price increases announced by the club for next season.

“For a second successive season, Liverpool have chosen to increase ticket prices for supporters,” the fan groups said in a combined statement. 

“This is despite record commercial revenues and a place as the seventh richest football club in the world. They didn’t have to do this.

“In the past, John Henry and Tom Werner [of Liverpool’s owners FSG] have spoken of the ‘unique and sacred’ bond between the club and its supporters — the way in which the club has conducted itself over this trashes that idea and damages the relationship and confidence in it.

“If fans really do matter and are valued by the club then freezing ticket prices for the coming season would have been a positive way to prove it.

“We have continually said, given the club’s significant income from other revenue streams — figures that will increase even further next season — and the financial challenges faced by many fans, they did not need to increase ticket prices. 

“It’s a choice, an active decision.”

Liverpool are one of numerous clubs to have announced ticket price rises ahead of next season. 

It almost feels as if groups of Premier League owners came together to agree on ticket price rises at the same time, using each other as an excuse for their own price increases.

In response, fan groups across the league including those aforementioned from Liverpool, the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust and the 1894 group of supporters at Manchester City have voiced concerns.

The 1894 group had a banner bearing the words “record profits but record prices, stop exploiting our loyalty” removed by the club ahead of City’s top-of-the-table clash at home to Arsenal.

Protests and statements are more powerful in times that matter, and for Liverpool, with legendary manager Klopp leaving at the end of the season and a league title and European trophy still up for grabs, this is one of those times.

Saving or delaying a protest for times when they will have less effect defeats the object of protest.

Ticket prices are already too high and fans are asked to part with their money at every turn on a matchday. Working back from that, none of the arguments in favour of ticket price rises — unbelievably there have been some — stack up.

Instead of asking why Liverpool fans are potentially disrupting things at such an important moment by not going ahead with the usual pre-match displays, ask why the club’s owners chose such a moment to raise ticket prices.

The pre-match protest by Liverpool fans is unlikely to have impacted performance against Atalanta, but if it did, as some claim, as the team fell to one of its most disappointing defeats in the Klopp era, it further reinforces fans’ importance and that they should not be taken for granted by club owners.

From a broadcast point of view, in an industry where lots of money sloshes around the game at this level, a European quarter final at Anfield is one of their main selling points and one of the reasons clubs like Liverpool receive so much TV money.

It is the fans, as well as the players and club staff, that bring that money in, so they are right to protest when asked to cough up more money themselves.

“We want to have the people in the stadium, we want to make it available to everybody,” Klopp said before the Atalanta game.

“There are a lot of good things the club is doing, but I understand 100 per cent where the supporters are coming from, and I’m pretty sure they will find a solution in this situation.

“It starts with a protest and then discussions follow, and that’s good, but what we should make sure of is that nothing gets between us and the supporters.”

The club markets itself partly on those flags and banners that create the atmosphere and unique feel of the Kop end in Anfield. Many clubs would pay to have such an aura around their games, steeped in history, tradition and values.

Supporters should be invested in, assisted, and encouraged to bring such a character and atmosphere to each game.

Clubs raising ticket prices for match-going fans are only harming themselves, especially when they do so at such a key moment in the season and in the history of the club.

“The race to find the richest fans in football is a worrying trend,” continued the statement from Liverpool supporters’ groups.

“Last season, 17 of the 20 Premier League clubs announced season-ticket price hikes, six more than the season before. 

“Liverpool will for the first time next season sell season tickets costing £900, and seven clubs sell season tickets for more than £1,000. There is a clear direction of travel.

“There are food banks outside of the ground, price hikes inside, what price the goodwill of supporters? 

“We are concerned that loyal fans, those that help to generate Liverpool’s famous atmosphere — adding to the commercial success — are slowly being priced out of regular attendance at Anfield. 

“We believe this should be a primary concern of the people who run our club, too.”

Liverpool’s next game at home to Crystal Palace on Sunday is an important one to win if they are to remain in the title race with City and Arsenal.

As it is the closest game to the 35th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, there will be flags and displays in tribute to and remembrance of those who lost their lives or were affected by the tragedy, but they will be the only flags present as the protest against ticket price rises continues.


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