Culture clash- should English football broaden its horizons?

Stanley Gilyead looks at what English football fans might learn from the likes of Germany and Argentina.

Stanley Gilyead
4th March 2019
Image- Tom Hardwick

The Premier League is often called the most exciting league in the world. It is packed with superstars and popular worldwide, making it difficult to disagree. But global expansion has left fans feeling marginalised- only a third feel their club cares about them and two thirds think their club is too focused on its international brand. Solutions to these problems may lie in Germany, where two of English fans’ main complaints, high ticket prices and a lack of representation on club’s boards, have been solved.

50+1 rules mean that fans’ trusts own a majority stake in clubs, playing an integral part in decision-making processes. Ticket prices are low, only £9 in Dortmund’s “yellow wall”, and safe standing, desired by 94% of English fans, has been implemented.

The absence of billionaire owners means fewer superstars are brought to the Bundesliga, with a German club never having paid a world record transfer fee. Clubs instead focus on developing young players, and with English football often criticised for a lack of trust in youth, this may not be a bad thing.

Nearly half of English fans think that Premier League crowds aren’t representative of wider communities. Many working-class fans have been priced out of attending and little effort has been made to engage with ethnic minorities, meaning crowds are increasingly a mixture of tourists and the white middle class.

This is a far cry from Argentinian football, where clubs provide an identity for the neighbourhood they represent. This is best exemplified by Boca Juniors, who represent the working class “La Boca” area of Buenos Aires, home to a diverse range of immigrant groups brought together by the club. Superstars from Riquelme to Tevez have donned the blue shirt of Boca Juniors having grown up in “La Boca", and are worshipped by the club’s faithful as one of their own.

Whilst the standard of football isn’t high, a game at Boca is considered one of the best experiences in world football. Pre-match barbeques and an atmosphere so intimidating it makes the stadium physically shake make fans as much a part of the match-day experience as the game.

However, clubs’ close connections with communities mean they reflect both the good and the bad of their neighbourhood. Boca’s support encompasses the “La Doce” hooligan group, involved in assaults, drug trafficking and murder. The group are supported financially by their involvement with the club, selling parking, touting tickets and even extorting money from the sale of players. Common in Argentina, hooliganism often disrupts the football, notably in the second leg of last year’s Copa Libertadores final when crowd trouble meant the match was postponed and eventually moved to Spain.

The answer to English fans’ complaints may in fact lie closer to home. The popularity of non-league football in England is unmatched globally, with average attendances in the National League higher than in many professional European leagues. Tickets are affordable, £5 for students at local clubs Blyth Spartans and Gateshead FC, and the clubs’ dependence on supporters fosters a sense of community which the Premier League lacks. With non-league football’s popularity rising there has never been a better time to support your local non-league club.

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