Thursday, 20 October 2011

Boycott: will it have any effect?

There was a boycott of Chelsea's Champions League game against Genk last night by a number of the club's supporters. And it appeared they had been joined in their protests by Genk's goalkeeper, back four and central midfielders! Joking aside, what, though, of the actual Chelsea supporters boycott? Before the match, there had been chat on sites like Twitter and Facebook about showing the club how much resentment had been caused by this season's ticket price increase (to £40 for a standard ticket) for these group games. The tactics were simple: regular fans made a pact not to turn up. A reduced crowd at Stamford Bridge was supposed to send a clear message to the Chelsea hierarchy: squeeze us too hard and we will squeak.

The result was moderately effective. The ground was filled to over 90 per cent capacity - the official attendance was 38,518, of which 1,000 tickets were given away free - but it felt subdued. Indeed, at times there was a deathly atmosphere from the home stands, which was strangely out of keeping with the exuberance on the pitch. All the noise was made by 3,000 Genk fans who seemed to get louder as their team's performance got lousier. Will the boycott have any material effect on Chelsea's pricing policy? It's hard to see how.

Chelsea are also at loggerheads with their supporters over the future of Stamford Bridge, having made an official proposal to buy the freehold of key parts of the ground from the Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO). The CPO lodged a counter-offer to the Chelsea board to keep the pitch-owning initiative in place if the club succeed in identifying a site for a new stadium. The counter-offer gave the club ‘total freedom’ to move to a larger stadium within three miles of Stamford Bridge at any time before 2030, so long as Abramovich remained in control. The CPO proposed to sell the Stamford Bridge freehold to the club in exchange for the freehold at the new ground. Chelsea promptly rejected this. Their original offer to buy back the land for a ‘money-back’ £10million and not move beyond three miles of the Bridge before 2020 still stands.

Both sides make valid points. On the one hand, Stamford Bridge is unquestionably inferior to the splendid stadia occupied by Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal. It is simply not big enough, which will cause Chelsea problems as we move into the era of Financial Fair Play. On the other hand, Chelsea's committed fans - the regulars at Stamford Bridge - are experiencing an acute form of the dislocation that now afflicts all supporters of big Premier League clubs. As football clubs globalise and become multi-national brands, the people who actually turn up at the stadium are in danger of being merely backing singers to the 'Premier League experience'.

source: Evening Standard

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