Farrell Monk on why the high cost to watch the Whites at Craven Cottage this year is the start of a slippery slope.
The latest in a long line of ticket-price fiascos from the club has come in the form of £40 tickets for a Tuesday night FA Cup fixture versus Leeds United, which is live on the BBC. Cue unsurprisingly slow sales, anger on every social media post advertising the game, and an unwelcome distraction for what should be seen as one of Fulham’s most successful seasons to date.
Match ticket pricing
Cast your mind back to before the start of the season. A blockbuster opening fixture was on the horizon against Liverpool. Fulham fans were responding to constant questions about Mitrovic’s ability at the top level. And an announcement from the club that tickets for the first non-COVID affected Fulham Premier League game since May 2019 would be at least £65 for adults.
A whopping 89% of the 2,200 supporters surveyed by the Fulham Supporters Trust at the time said they would attend fewer or no games as a result. Despite the claim the Liverpool prices would be “a one-off”, the pricing policy has continued. Arsenal next month seeing the £65 ‘one-off’ for the fourth time this season. As a result, “legacy supporters” have been the most impacted. The club admitted that it came as no surprise that one in three people who attended games last season have not come a single match up until the world cup break in November when the FST ran their latest annual survey.
While all fans are negatively affected, the annual survey revealed that the fans most turned off are one who have supported for more than 20 years. Even though the club are aware of the impacts of this damaging strategy, they plough on regardless. They will continue to push the line that the stadium is selling out, which it isn’t, and they will do this at the expense of longstanding Fulham fans.
It should have been easy for the club to tempt fans from their sofa to the Cottage for what could be turning into a decent cup run. It’s been more than a decade since Fulham reached the quarter-final stage, and you can double it for a semi-final appearance. The prospect of seeing a half-full Craven Cottage live on BBC for a big fixture – and the likely unjust criticism aimed at Fulham fans – fills me with dread.
The viewing public will point likely to a amazing Leeds turnout and deride the home side’s poor attendance, missing the context completely. Ignoring that this is a culmination of years of the senior management chipping away at us finally coming to a head after years of warnings. Especially in the environment where so many around the country are feeling the pinch of poor economic policies where football and Fulham should be there as a solace.
It’s expected that the ticket embarrassment will be mitigated somewhat by accepting plenty of Leeds fans with apparent booking histories and thousands of freebies going to sponsors. Another “sell-out”, Mr Khan.
Craven Cottage facilities
The above shouldn’t be reported in isolation. And so it’s important to talk about what you get for your money. Of course, a large part of this is watching Joao Palhinha elegantly powerhouse his way through oppositions like a Bentley. But some of the basic amenities on offer at Craven Cottage is more David Brent-ly.
The Club has repeatedly talked of becoming world class, yet the survey shows our facilities are anything but. Putting the Riverside to one side (literally), the rest of the stadium facilities were rated ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ on average, with the Hammersmith End getting the worst ratings. The concourse has long been derided, and has been getting worse with reduced space resulting from the Riverside development.
The Trust’s Ian Clarke took part in a half-time walkaround with a club safety officer during the Manchester United game. Predictably though, the congestion was so bad the walkaround was only partially completed. This again, is not news to the club and has been repeatedly raised by the FST. And despite sensible suggestions such as moving the catering points and increasing toilets facilities (especially for female supporters), there has been no progress.
We are football fans though; we know that we shouldn’t expect plush heated toilet facilities with Japanese-style jet washes for our bums. It’s the trade-off we accept as Fulham fans to be able to call Craven Cottage our home, but we’d like to be able to get to a toilet in a safe environment at the very least, if you can afford a ticket.
The biggest surprise for me were the five people who said the Johnny Haynes concourse was “excellent”.
What does it all mean?
Al Fayed did a magnificent job at re-awakening a long lost fanbase and bringing large swathes of new supporters with inclusive and affordable tickets. In this era however, they are ready to turn them all away again. An exclusive members club in the new Riverside stand might the indicator of Shahid Khan’s vision for his future, a Craven Cottage only available to the privileged willing to pay thousands of pounds a year.
It was only April 2021 when the European Super League was proposed, rightly prompting backlash from across the football world, including the Fulham owner.
“The concept will not serve the game or our most important stakeholders – the generations of football fans here in England”, he wrote on the Club website.
Of course, Mr Khan was right to say so, but we should also make sure that he is held accountable to his words by fans. However, Fulham are now the most expensive team to watch in the Premier League. His comments are in stark contrast to the reality of the current policies around ticket pricing and the facilities at the Cottage.
Club CEO Alastair Mackintosh once told us he would like nothing more than “to see Craven Cottage full of Fulham fans”. And we can all agree on that. But this also goes against what they described as the survey results as no surprise” when they already know that over half of non-season ticket holders who bought seven tickets on average last year have only been to one or no matches at all in the Premier League up to that point.
It would be a travesty to leave behind a generation of fans who stood up and protected Fulham FC when our future was repeatedly threatened. Which is why it’s vital the club listens to the fans today – for the sake of tomorrow.