Last September, I was in the German capital to run, walk and stagger my way through the 26 miles of the Berlin Marathon. I did my research like all good football fans do and found, to my delight, that Union Berlin had a Bundesliga home game against Hoffenheim the day before the race. I thought I’d get tickets for me and my mate.

I was excited about going to the game. Union have become a byword for a progressive club that values its fans, where the supporters are not an afterthought, where the fans are part of the club, where their loyalty is rewarded and cherished and where the atmosphere inside the Stadion An der Alten Försterei is loud and passionate.

But guess what? There’s a price to pay for being a club like that. For people like me, anyway. And the price is that loyal fans, who go to every home game, are respected and rewarded and prioritised by the club and so tourists like me find it hard to pitch up and waltz into a game.

The 50+1 ownership model in the Bundesliga is not a panacea but it means loyal fans are given the voice and the respect they are denied in England. I tried to get tickets for the Union-Hoffenheim game through the club. No chance. I tried the ticket exchanges. No chance.

So I went to watch a game on the Friday night instead, a Berliner AK 07 match against Chemnitzer FC in the fourth tier Regionalliga Nordost. And when I got over the disappointment of not being able to go to the Union game, I thought about it a bit more and realised that that’s what proper clubs do. They prioritise loyal fans over casual visitors, however enthusiastic those visitors may be.

Back in September, I wanted to buy tickets for Union Berlin's league clash with Hoffenheim

Back in September, I wanted to buy tickets for Union Berlin's league clash with Hoffenheim

Back in September, I wanted to buy tickets for Union Berlin’s league clash with Hoffenheim

However, I soon realised that tourists pay a price when trying to buy tickets, as loyal and local fans are prioritised - which is unlike the systems we see in the Premier League

However, I soon realised that tourists pay a price when trying to buy tickets, as loyal and local fans are prioritised - which is unlike the systems we see in the Premier League

However, I soon realised that tourists pay a price when trying to buy tickets, as loyal and local fans are prioritised – which is unlike the systems we see in the Premier League

I thought about that experience on Sunday when I saw the banner that some Manchester City fans unfurled before their game against Arsenal that was a protest against the fact that even though City are posting record profits, they are also charging record prices for season tickets that are disenfranchising loyal fans.

On the tram to the game, there were plenty of Mancunian accents but they were generously complemented by Americans and Spanish and Scandinavian and Japanese supporters. There is something wonderfully eclectic about that kind of mix of cultures coming together to support a team but there is a price to pay, too.

Most of my friends in Manchester who are City supporters can’t afford to go any more. That has been the case for a while although now that process of alienation is beginning to accelerate through the fanbase. It is left to fan groups like ‘1894’, in City’s case, to give the fans’ grievances a voice.

‘Record Profits. Record Prices,’ a message on 1894’s X page says. ‘To hell with the legacy fans who carried the club & concentrate on the global fan base & charge stupid amounts for match day prices/ packages. The price of everything & the value of nothing.’

This is not just about City, by the way. This is about Spurs and Liverpool and Fulham and Manchester United and many, many clubs in the English top flight. And in this case, in the Premier League, the price is being paid by loyal, local fans. That is the choice the top tier of English football has made. It has, to no one’s great surprise, chosen to prioritise making a fast buck rather than respecting its traditional fan-base.

It has chosen to eradicate and erase loyal fans. It has chosen to freeze them out and it is not even bothering to be particularly subtle about it. It is taking the financial mismanagement of its clubs and their craven obeisance to player wages and it is passing the cost on to the people who can least afford it.

I understand the argument made by, among others, Ange Postecoglou that going to a Premier League match should be open to all and that it is wrong to discriminate against fans just because they might happen to live on the other side of the world. It is usually hard to find fault with anything that the Spurs manager says but in this particular case, I can’t agree with him.

Manchester City fans hold up a banner in frustration at the price hike for next seasons tickets

Manchester City fans hold up a banner in frustration at the price hike for next seasons tickets

Manchester City fans hold up a banner in frustration at the price hike for next seasons tickets 

Some fans will have to pay 5% more on their season tickets for the 2024-25 campaign

Some fans will have to pay 5% more on their season tickets for the 2024-25 campaign

 Some fans will have to pay 5% more on their season tickets for the 2024-25 campaign 

I suppose it comes down to a person’s view of the English game. Mine is that all our clubs should be inextricably linked with their communities. Fans whose families have supported them for generations, fans who go to the games every week, fans who will not fall away when a player leaves, fans who have a visceral feel for what a club means to its town or city, should be prioritised, not marginalised.

This argument is about what we want our game to be. Do we want it to be a vehicle for corporate greed, somewhere you take a client to entertain them on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon? Do we want it to be an international product, rather than a spectacle for English tribalism? Do we want our clubs owned by nation states? Do we want to disenfranchise traditional fans?

The answers, in the Premier League, are clear: yes, yes, yes and yes.

Loyal fans are an afterthought. All that matters is how much a ‘customer’ spends. All that matters is how much money a club can wring out of a ticket price. And if season tickets are deemed economically inefficient, they will phase them out.

They will phase out loyal fans. They are doing it now, in front of our eyes. They are being driven out. I know it, you know it and the Premier League clubs know it. That is why there are protests at ground after ground and that is why the protests will grow in the weeks and months ahead.

More and more, I am starting to hear the argument that it is wrong to consider the Premier League as English football any more. Because there are more foreign owners in the top flight than English owners, because the league’s main influences are American and Middle Eastern, it belongs to the world now. That is how that argument goes.

More and more, I am starting to hear the argument that it is wrong to consider the Premier League as English football any more

More and more, I am starting to hear the argument that it is wrong to consider the Premier League as English football any more

More and more, I am starting to hear the argument that it is wrong to consider the Premier League as English football any more

It is the same argument that says our clubs, deracinated and transplanted and corporatized and homogenised, should play league games abroad and stage the FA Cup Final in Dallas. It is the same argument that denies the Premier League is part of a wider eco-system that is dependent on the lower leagues.

The reality, though, is that the Premier League is flirting with self-destruction. Its club are killing the goose that laid the golden egg. Its owners don’t realise that if they kill the character of clubs by banishing loyal fans, they will kill the league, too.

Because, yes, people watch the Premier League for its sublime players and for Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp and Roberto de Zerbi but they also watch it for the intensity of its atmosphere and the passion of the fans. That is the league’s unique selling point. The corporates don’t provide that. Tourists don’t provide that.

I don’t know if Premier League chief executive Richard Masters or any of the club owners have noticed but our stadiums are getting quieter. Month-by-month, season by season, they are draining our grounds of their life-blood. They won’t know what they’ve got till it’s gone. Until then, the greed of the Premier League clubs is hastening them along the path to their own decline.

Tonali shouldn’t be punished again 

I was not a fan of the way Newcastle chose to celebrate Sandro Tonali’s punishment for gambling on football by giving him a hero’s farewell before the start of his ban. 

He did something wrong. He got caught. And it is right that he should have received sanction. 

However, the idea that he should be punished again for offences committed after he arrived in England in the summer seems unjust and unfair. 

Tonali has confessed to being a gambling addict and is serving a harsh sentence for what he did. 

He has admitted the offences and agreed to treatment and education around the subject. He doesn’t need to be punished again. The message has been sent.

Sandro Tonali is serving a 10-month ban from football imposed on him by Italian authorities

Sandro Tonali is serving a 10-month ban from football imposed on him by Italian authorities

Sandro Tonali is serving a 10-month ban from football imposed on him by Italian authorities

Ten Hag on thin ince 

Manchester United’s performance against Brentford on Saturday was the kind of performance that gets a manager the sack. 

I suspect Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sir Dave Brailsford have already made their decision about Erik ten Hag and will confirm it at the end of the season. 

Displays like the one at the Gtech Community Stadium will only harden their resolve.

Erik ten Hag watched on as his Man United side were dominated by Brentford on Saturday

Erik ten Hag watched on as his Man United side were dominated by Brentford on Saturday

Erik ten Hag watched on as his Man United side were dominated by Brentford on Saturday

White’s cop out 

So it appears Ben White has recused himself from playing for England because he was upset Gareth Southgate’s assistant Steve Holland had a sarcastic dig at him for his lack of football knowledge. 

I shudder to think how he would have coped with Sir Alex Ferguson’s hairdrier.

Are male coaches welcome in the women’s game?

Emma Hayes’ outburst on Sunday about the unwanted stain of ‘male aggression’ in women’s football came after she objected to the touchline behaviour of Arsenal manager Jonas Eidevall during the Continental Cup final at Molineux. 

Emma Hayes shoved Jonas Eidevall following Arsenal's Conti Cup win over Chelsea on Sunday

Emma Hayes shoved Jonas Eidevall following Arsenal's Conti Cup win over Chelsea on Sunday

Emma Hayes shoved Jonas Eidevall following Arsenal’s Conti Cup win over Chelsea on Sunday

Hayes’ observations were serious and potentially far-reaching. 

At a time when ‘inappropriate’ relationships between male coaches and female players are under the spotlight for the harm they can cause, Hayes’s comments about Eidevall hinted at a wider issue for the sport that Hayes has forced out into the open.

Are we reaching towards a tipping point here where male coaches are no longer welcome in the women’s game?

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