Euro 2012 is now over and Spain have proven to be our worthy champions and maybe one of the greatest teams of all time. It was a fantastic tournament full of goals, excitement, individual brilliance and legendary players. After the disappointment of the 2010 World Cup the Euros has reminded us all how thrilling international tournament football can be. Another great positive has been dispelling ignorant stereotypes about Eastern Europe that were not helped by the British media before the tournament with biased and unnecessary documentaries such as the BBC’s Panorama and the Sky Sports News Special Report. Visiting fans have learned that Poles and Ukrainians are in-fact extremely welcoming, friendly hosts who do not discriminate based on race or ethnicity.
This is backed up by the stat that not a single racist crime was reported throughout the tournament. Ethnic minority visitors such as Stan Collymore have regularly praised the Ukrainian people while England fans even had a protest against Sol Campbell and his ridiculous pre-tournament comments where he told fans not to travel to the tournament or they could come back in a coffin. Fans in Poland also reported how friendly the locals were with the Irish for example creating a special bond with the people of Poznan.
There was however one major problem with this tournament. Something that has not been reported by the Western media as it hasn’t affected Western fans. This is the issue of ticket prices not allowing access to regular fans from the host nations.
I am sure everyone reading this has noticed the amount of empty seats at most games during the tournament, including the final. People from Western countries have often reacted with confusion at this or blamed it on the lack of infrastructure in the host nations, especially the Ukraine. There are however plenty of people who would love to see the world’s greatest players in action, but they just can’t afford it.
To people in Britain or Spain paying £53 for a second category ticket to a group game or £61 for a second category ticket to a quarter final game isn’t a huge amount of money or major sacrifice. They’re just typical prices for a league match to watch the likes of Chelsea or Real Madrid. However to watch a top division league game in the Ukraine can cost less than £1 while in Poland league game tickets tend to cost around £4. Just to re-iterate that is the cost to watch the best teams in the country, not for a lower level.
During 2011 the average monthly net salary in Poland was 2,404ZL, which on today’s exchange rate is £456. In Ukraine the average monthly net salary is 2,411UAH, which is £190. That figure was released in April by the Ukrainian government. I also want to emphasise that these stats are averages and therefore include the salaries of the super-rich which can make average people look wealthier than they are. In the UK for example the average net monthly salary is £1,594 (Gross £2,183) .
As you can see from these numbers the ticket prices are extremely high for normal people from both host nations, especially for Ukrainians, which explains why there were more empty seats there than in Poland (the Ukrainian stadiums were also typically larger). Considering most people will have to spend more than half of their salary in rent/mortgage and then have other costs on top for essentials it is almost impossible for a normal people to attend the Euros. Before the tournament begun the British media labelled the fans staging “Fuck Euro” protests as being hooligans intent on destroying the tournament. In reality they were normal fans who genuinely love football but had been priced out of attending what should have been the highlight of their year.
I think it’s clear to see from the lack of atmosphere in stadiums that normal fans had been priced out while seats were taken by middle class people who cared more about being seen on TV than the actual game. The atmospheres have been so bad that we had people doing Mexican waves within twenty something minutes of the final kicking off. We even saw images of “fans” literally asleep in stadiums during games. Only two nations had particularly impressive fans in terms of creating an atmosphere. This was Croatia and Ireland. Both were eliminated in the group stage. From then onwards we were left with great footballers playing huge matches in front of audiences that would fit more with a theatre performance than a football match.
It’s a shame because both countries have really amazing fans who genuinely have a passion for football. Polish clubs in particular have arguably the best fans in the whole of Europe. They have however been driven out of international football by ticket pricing leaving them to feel bitterness, hatred and distain towards a tournament that should have been about them. UEFA always claim to do what’s best for football, but in reality they do what they can to make money and appease their sponsors rather than to give access to their product to fans from all over Europe. If you are going to have a tournament in Eastern Europe then you should price tickets at rates that are affordable to people from this region rather than at Western European rates.
It looks as though in the future pricing and access for regular fans will get even worse along with the on-field product. For the 2016 tournament in France we will see a watered-down version of the tournament with an extra eight teams qualifying. This means that three from four will qualify from group stages leaving us with the same amount of teams in the knockout stages that we started the 2012 tournament with. In 2020 Michel Platini is proposing an even more ridiculous idea where games would be hosted in various cities all over Europe. He believes that fans can afford this because fights on budget airlines are cheap. This shows just how out of touch he is with the fans.
The fact is that Eastern European league football has already been destroyed by UEFA by not being given access to European competitions due to inviting more and more teams from the Western European leagues. The next step of Platini’s plan to make UEFA rich is to further isolate fans from poorer, less developed nations in order to milk the TV money and ticketing money from major Western European markets. Sadly I see no end to this cycle of greed by the game’s governing body as the most powerful clubs, associations and organisations are getting rich from their plans and therefore will not question or take action against them. European football is being taken further and further from the real fans and becoming more and more like elitist American sports.
Statistics on salaries in Poland http://www.stat.gov.pl/gus/5840_1890_ENG_HTML.htm
Statistics on salaries in the Ukraine http://www.ukrstat.gov.ua/
Statistics on salaries in the UK http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-2067258/Best-paid-jobs-2011-Tables-official-figures-UK-salaries.html