Feature: A Look at the Growing Issue of Football Tourism

Ahead of last weekend’s Manchester derby, Manchester United pub ‘The Trafford’ introduced a ban on half and half scarves. The pub encouraged fans to put their half and half scarves in the bin before entering in order to ‘clear their conscience.’ For any football fan, wearing the colours of your rivals is an unforgivable sin, even if it is displayed alongside the colours of your club, but the number of half and half scarves being sold outside Premier League grounds in England is growing. So is the number of football fans who are buying them. This apparent epidemic of half and half scarves has been the reason why pubs such as The Trafford have felt the need to ban them.

Over the years half and half scarves have become the symbol for the soulless commercialisation of the game. They have also become associated with tourists who purchase a half and half scarf as a souvenir of their Premier League experience. This has given rise to ill feeling from the local fans towards the tourists, who can come from as far as Asia or America to watch a game of football. What the local fans believe is unforgivable is not only that the tourists are wearing the scarves, but it is that they don’t even understand what is wrong about it.

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There tends to be a lot of snobbery from local fans towards tourists. A sort of self righteous belief that they have more of a right to watch their team play than perhaps a foreigner who has never even visited the country before. In some ways they do have a right. For locals, they are supporting the football team that represents their city, it’s an extension of who they are and where they are from. Their connection to the club may go deeper, perhaps through their father or grandfather. From this connection comes the right of passage that local fans feel. For teams such as Manchester United and Liverpool where the demand for tickets outstrips the supply, local fans believe that they should have priority to tickets.

In recent years, however, there has been a noticeable change in the demographic of those who attend home matches. The number of local fans in the ground has dropped while the number of fans from across the UK or from across the world has risen. It isn’t a coincidence that this swing has coincided with an increase in ticket prices across the Premier League. As the prices for match day tickets at the Premier Leagues elite clubs has risen to £50 or even £60, local fans, especially 18 to 30 year olds, have been priced out while the market for packaged trips from companies such as Thomas Cook has exploded.

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To use them as an example, the travel company offers packages for eight Premier League clubs, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham and Southampton. Prices at Manchester United start at £129 per person, while at Liverpool prices start from £149. Both packages advertise the ‘world famous’ atmospheres at Anfield and Old Trafford however regular Premier League observers would agree that the atmospheres at England’s most successful clubs has been lacking for some time now.

It’s not just the travel companies fault though, the clubs themselves must take some responsibility. It is the clubs who are responsible for ‘selling out’, opting to sacrifice the loyalty of their local supporters and the match day atmosphere for the money that tourists bring in. Protests about ticket prices before Premier League matches are becoming regular, especially after the TV deal worth £5 billion that the Premier League signed with BT and Sky Sports last year. With that amount of money being invested into the league and making its way down into the clubs, there is no need for supporters to be charged so much. Instead, clubs maintain high prices for their season ticket holders while also selling out to travel companies.

It is unfair, therefore, that football fans sometimes vent their anger at tourists when instead it’s really their beloved clubs who are letting them down. If anything, football tourists should be applauded. Some football fans are born into supporting their team but others simply fall in love with them. If a young boy is watching football match for the first time it doesn’t matter if he’s watching from Edinburgh, London, New York or Beijing because it only takes a special player, a goal or the noise of the crowd for him to fall in love with the team. From there, you can be hooked for life.

It’s naive to assume that football only matters to those who live in the country where its played. Just look at the attendances when Liverpool or Manchester United play pre-season friendlies abroad. In 2013, Liverpool sold out the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground when they played Melbourne Victory during their pre season tour of Australia and Asia. That’s 95,000 people. Then just try to imagine how many of those people dream of travelling to Anfield, hearing You’ll Never Walk Alone being sung by the Kop and watching their team play a home match.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Liverpool fans sing during the match between the Melbourne Victory and Liverpool at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on July 24, 2013 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

Every year thousands of people from across the world make that journey to watch a game of football. From Asia, North America, Africa, Scandinavia, Australia, the lengths and financial expense that football fans go to so that they can watch their team is extraordinary. Also, some of these fans have waited years, if not decades, to visit their team and watch them play.

When criticising the number of football tourists who attend Premier League perhaps some fans would also be interested to discover that every season tens of thousands of British fans travel abroad to watch European football. Germany’s Bundesliga has become a favourite destination because of the price of the tickets and the atmosphere in the ground. Teams such as Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund sell cheaper match day tickets than every Premier League club and it’s because of this that Dortmund alone sell over 1,000 of their 80,000 match day tickets to British football fans.

The difference is that the Dortmund or Bayern fans don’t complain. It is true that while 1,000 British fans attend a game another 1,000 Germans who are on the 30,000 long waiting list cant attend the match, but they don’t complain because there are another 79,000 supporters who are offered affordable tickets. As a result the atmosphere inside Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion, especially on the Yellow Wall, is considered to be the best in Europe. In Germany fans are treated as if they are part of the club unlike in England where their loyalty is exploited to make as much money as possible.

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I consider myself to be a football tourist. Whenever I go on holiday I always check where and when the local football team play and if it would be possible to go to a game. For instance in August I was in Amsterdam at the same time as Ajax’s Champions League qualifier against Vienna and naturally I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to visit the stunning Amsterdam Arena to watch one of Europe’s most famous clubs. My friend and I bought tickets on the Ajax website, on a separate section of the site where it sold tickets to British tourists. Upon our arrival to pick up the tickets we were presented with a, you guessed it, half and half scarf. One half in the red of Ajax, the other in the green of Vienna.

I was a bit dubious walking to the game surrounded by Ajax fans whilst wearing the colours and badge of the opposition. But when I got home after the game, after Vienna had knocked Ajax out after winning 3-2, I was glad that I had the souvenir. It was a fantastic reminder of a what was an enjoyable game and I still have the scarf to this day. There really isn’t any thing wrong with them. It’s only what the scarf represents in Britain that is the problem.

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Football is a global game and fans of Premier League clubs must accept that there are fans from across the world who are desperate to participate and be involved. No one has a divine right to attend a football match over someone else but elite Premier League clubs do have a responsibility to look after their local fans. Football is a global game but clubs must also be community focused. Clubs should be an extension of the cities that they represent and to make this possible stadiums have to be filled with passionate locals, such as in Germany.

If Premier League clubs reduced their ticket prices then perhaps local fans will be more accepting of football tourists. It isn’t the idea of football tourism in Britain that is wrong, it is the perception of it.

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