Bilic fears football becoming 'a sport for the upper classes'

West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic hopes a balance can be found to prevent football joining the likes of 'polo, caviar and champagne' in being an out-of-reach luxury for average fans.

West Ham United Slaven Bilic

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic Source: AAP

Bilic added the example of a West End show to his argument as he joined his managerial colleagues in hoping the sport can continue to be financially viable to attend.

The issue of ticket prices reared its head last weekend as an estimated 10,000 Liverpool fans staged a walk-out of Anfield during their league match against Sunderland in protest at increases next season which included a new $156.78 match ticket and the club's first $2,000-plus season ticket.

England does not stand alone on this front. Some Borussia Dortmund fans expressed their anger over ticket prices by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch during a cup game against Stuttgart in midweek.

While Liverpool's owners have since announced a U-turn on the proposed increases, the potential for protests at other clubs remains.

Bilic said: "You have to find a balance, especially in the Premier League you are getting lots of money from TV and sponsorship so the tickets should be a good price for the fans.

"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.

"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."

Whether a pan-European protest emerges remains to be seen, though Swansea City manager Francesco Guidolin chose to draw on his Italian experience when asked about the issue.

"We don't have this debate in Italy because the price of tickets is expensive for the best places in the stadium but in other areas of the stadium it is not expensive," Guidolin said.

"The reason is that the stadiums here are in good comfort and in Italy it is not the same."

Sunderland fans have been known to walk out mid-match on occasion, though so far only over the club's performances on the pitch. Manager Sam Allardyce may well hope ticket prices do not join that list.

"Of course, publicity goes to Liverpool by the fact that they have taken what the fans have done on board and reduced the prices," he said.

"What we don't want is, we don't ever want to get to that level at Sunderland where we have a fan demonstration walking out about our prices, and I don't think this club will ever, ever do that."

Allardyce's words were echoed by his counterpart from Crystal Palace. Alan Pardew was keen to stress the importance of retaining the atmosphere on matchday, something fan groups say could be in decline if traditional supporters continue to be priced out.

He said: "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."

And while Stoke City chief Mark Hughes hopes his club are 'doing our bit' towards retaining that traditional atmosphere, Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores took a relatively radical view on things.

"Sometimes the situation of the families is not so good, so if you are talking with me about what I think, I would like them to go for free, and if not free, cheap," the Spaniard said.

"I don't understand why football is expensive for the people because the football is great for the fans. But football is more and more of a business and it is difficult to think that it will ever be free."

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4 min read
Published 12 February 2016 at 5:29am
Source: PA Sport