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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 09:14 GMT 10:14 UK
Paying the price

By Mandeep Sanghera

Empty seats, a lack of goals and complaints about high ticket prices have formed the backdrop to the start of the Premiership season and prompted fears over the future of top-flight football.

The figures are not adding up both on and off the field and concerns that the Premiership bubble may have burst have triggered the Premier League to start an investigation into falling attendances.

As the nation regains its nerves after England reclaimed the Ashes during the summer, football is proving a poor substitute in filling the void left by one of the most exciting cricket series in the history of the game.

While England's strategy was to attack Australia to win back the famous urn, the Premiership is going in the opposite direction, with goals drying up and the free-flowing football it was famed for being replaced with a focus on tactics and defence.

As a result, the entertainment value has plummeted and fans are refusing to pay prices of up to 70 a ticket to attend matches.

Players are even said to be upset at the changing philosophy of the game.

Even at Manchester United some of the squad are reported to be unhappy at a switch from a more traditional 4-4-2 formation to a 4-5-1 which is more intent on keeping the goals out than scoring them.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has also voiced strong concerns that the top flight is failing to deliver when it comes to entertainment value.

And the most damning statistic is shown by the marked decrease in goals compared to the same stage during the past five seasons with only 112 being scored so far this season compared to 144 last time around.

It makes for grim reading and the blame is being laid at the door of the Roman Abramovich revolution at champions Chelsea - as well as television coverage reaching saturation point.

Chelsea are this season's top scorers, having a goals for tally of 12, while manager Jose Mourinho's side have yet to concede a goal.

When somebody buys a ticket and spends 50, 60 or 70, it is not because he wants to be bored
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger

They have yet to match the eye-catching style that Arsenal and Manchester United showed during their prime but many regard the Stamford Bridge side retaining the title as a foregone conclusion.

A recent midweek match between Chelsea and West Brom crystallised the worrying trend in the Premiership.

In a rare step, the Blues attempted to sell their remaining tickets on the day of the game, while Baggies boss Bryan Robson fielded a weakened team to rest players in preparation for what was deemed a more winnable game against Birmingham four days later.

The perceived lack of competitive edge and the widening gap between the Premiership tiers could be seen as a factor in demoralising fans.

And, while football finance experts suggest that the banks of empty seats at stadia will have little impact at most clubs as income is extracted from commercial activities, the images are no doubt bad for the game.

Whether the present malaise is a temporary blip, the findings of the Premier League will be awaited with anticipation and, even more so, the steps taken to reverse football's worrying trend should it continue.

PREMIERSHIP TICKET PRICES
Club Highest Lowest
Arsenal 54 30
Aston Villa 31 17
Birmingham City 45 20
Blackburn Rovers 38 24 (Cat A) | 15 (Cat B)
Bolton Wanderers 39 21
Charlton Athletic 35 20
Chelsea 60 35
Everton 34 28 (Cat A) | 26 (Cat B)
Fulham 49 28
Liverpool 32 30 (Cat A) | 28 (Cat B)
Manchester City 32 27
Manchester United * 36 21
Middlesbrough 40 24
Newcastle United 37 22
Portsmouth 39 30 (Cat A) | 26 (Cat B)
Sunderland 30 25 (Cat A) | 20 (Cat B)
Tottenham 70 38 (Cat A) | 26 (Cat C)
West Brom 49 35 (Cat A) | 25 (Cat C)
West Ham United 53 37 (Cat A) | 30 (Cat B)
Wigan Athletic 25 22 (Cat A) | 17 (Cat B)

  • Cat A: Category A games (high-profile matches)
  • Cat B/C: Category B & C games (lower level matches)
  • * members' prices

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  • SEE ALSO
    Premiership in the dock
    22 Sep 05 |  Football
    Buoyant Conference rides the wave
    22 Sep 05 |  Non League
    Top flight is still a thriller
    19 Sep 05 |  Premiership
    Whelan cites salary cap support
    22 Sep 05 |  Premiership
    Rooney dismisses 'boring' claim
    20 Sep 05 |  Man Utd
    Owen says Premiership has changed
    19 Sep 05 |  Newcastle United
    Wenger says clubs must entertain
    20 Sep 05 |  Arsenal


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