I am now a customer, rather than a supporter

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TWO days before the 19th anniversary of the inaugural Fans United day at the Goldstone Ground, Liverpool fans embarked on a much-publicised 77th-minute walk-out at Anfield in protest at ticket price rises.

With the extensive media coverage, it again brings the issue of the treatment of supporters the length and breadth of the country. The Liverpool issue is over the proposal to charge £77 for certain seats next season. Initially, one point that was almost certainly originally put out by the Reds PR department, was that it’s the same price to watch the Rolling Stones.

Then again, that argument is almost immediately shot down. I’d love to see Mick and the boys churning out the hits and probably would pay that kind of money, but not 20 or so times in nine and a half months.

Seeing the archive footage of the Fans United fixture not only makes me feel old but shows how far the football fans movement has come. I do wonder how many of the Liverpool fans of a certain age who walked out would have either been aware or have supported Fans United 19 years ago?

After years of elitism, are even the Premier League fans realising that they are not immune from harsh treatment?

The 1997 footage alongside the Anfield protest also highlights the inevitable move from supporters to customers. A move not really wanted and to a degree almost done without any realisation until it was almost irreversible. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a supporter is a person actively interested and wishes success to a particular sports team. As we all know, in the case of football, it’s sometimes a lot more than that. It’s, ultimately, outside your family, your first real love, before any girl or boyfriend, while you can if desired change those, you very rarely change your football team.

From early visits to Woodside Road in 1972 and the Goldstone in 1973, I find myself over 40 years later still ‘following’ both clubs, but even my situation has changed to a degree. Despite being a club director, I still consider myself a Worthing supporter. But with the Albion, this sadly has changed, my love, and that is not too strong a word, will always be there, but I realise now, like fans across the nation. that I am a customer, rather than a supporter.

So when did this happen for me at the Albion? Probably when the club moved from Withdean to the corporate Valhalla that is the Amex. In layman’s terms, we went from a £3.49 carvery to a pie for nearly a fiver.

Don’t get me wrong, while part of me never wanted to leave the Goldstone, the move to Falmer was essential for the progression of the club. But that doesn’t detract from the Liverpool and other related protests. Has the time come nearly 20 years after Fans United when the club owners realise how important the fans/supporters/customers actually are?

In footballing terms, the Germans are per-haps the envy of the rest of Europe. Without exception, every professional club is German-owned, therefore the teams have an affinity and accommodate the national side. Perhaps the most telling are the words of Bayern Munich president Uli Hoeness. In the nicest way, he describes fans as cows, constantly milked by the clubs and their owners, however there will always be a danger that if you milk a cow too much, it stops producing.

Part of me cannot wait to see the Albion in the top flight but how much more of a customer will we all become with Premier League football at the Amex? And what happens when, or if, the milk runs dry?

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