Saturday, February 13, 2016

Arsenal face new Premier League fan protests

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger appealed for fans not to stage protests during Sunday’s top-of-the table clash against Leicester City as new supporter anger erupted. Wenger defended clubs and their prices after West Ham United’s Slaven Bilic led calls by English Premier League managers to stop stadiums becoming the exclusive preserve of the “caviar” class.

      A walkout by 10,000 Liverpool fans and subsequent about-turn by the club on price rises, put the spotlight on the super-rich league where a single ticket at Arsenal can cost close to 100 pounds ($145). Leicester fans are now furious that Sunday’s game at Arsenal has been brought forward to suit television coverage. 

Some have threatened to enter the stadium five minutes after kick-off in protest at money lost on travel and accommodation. Arsenal supporters’ group REDaction back the action and have called on home fans to applaud Leicester counterparts when they enter the ground. Wenger said everyone should be inside the stadium for kickoff. “You can protest before and after, but during the game, you want everybody to be there,” he said adding that every moment should be savoured. “Life is not every day fantastic – sometimes it’s boring, sometimes it’s difficult for many people. Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don’t miss it.” 

Leicester are more worried about television companies changing game times. But fans are still angry about prices and Bilic, Crystal Palace’s Alan Pardew and Watford’s Quique Sanchez Flores all called for realism by owners of the clubs awash with hundreds of millions of pounds in television and sponsorship deals. – Football caviar – “It’s not polo, it’s not golf, it’s not a sport for the upper classes. It’s the most popular sport and shouldn’t be a privilege for a family to go and watch,” said Bilic ahead of a new round of Premier League games which will be watched for protests. “It should be affordable. If you go to the shop and buy caviar and champagne it’s expensive, it should be, but bread and milk is cheap. It should be like that with football.

 “I think a balance can be found to keep fans happy. Otherwise we will have empty stadiums. It’s not like going to London to see ‘Les Miserables’, it’s football.” The sight of 10,000 Liverpool fans walking out of Anfield in the 77th minute of last weekend’s Sunderland game in protest at a 77-pound ticket shocked many English clubs. 

Liverpool’s American owners reversed the move on Wednesday and apologised for the “distress” caused to fans. Watford’s Spanish manager Flores said: “For me, I’d let the fans in for free. If not, cheap.” Crystal Palace’s Pardew said owners need a dose of realism. “The owners of the football clubs — and we have a lot of foreign owners — need to really consider carefully that they don’t lose the core supporters that we have. “Because if they think it’s just the product on the pitch that makes the Premier League what it is, it isn’t. “It’s the atmosphere. It’s the drive from those core supporters that makes the atmosphere and the game unfold the way it does.” 

Premier League clubs are due to meet next month to make major decisions for next season, including on tickets. Last year, a majority called for a maximum price for away fans but it did not get the necessary two thirds majority to get passed. “We would hope in the light of the Liverpool situation they will deliver something meaningful,” said Football Supporters Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke. 

Arsenal joined teams to oppose the move and they faced protests from Bayern Munich and Liverpool fans this year over the prices they charged travelling supporters. Former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown paid tribute to Germany’s efforts to keep ticket prices down and said he was ready to join a protest in England. It is currently 140 euros ($160) for the cheapest adult standing season ticket at Bayern Munich. “There are so many instances where fans are the last people to be considered,” Keown said in the Daily Mail. 

“The cost of going to watch a game, the tickets, travel, overnight stays, fixtures being chopped and changed all the time, giving people ridiculous distances to travel, often at the last minute.” Keown said that if there was a new price protest at Arsenal “I would follow suit. The clubs have to support what the majority of fans want and it’s time to stand up for them.”

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