From its earliest days, supporters have been central to the attraction of football. Of the many sports codified in the nineteenth century, only football developed into the type of mass spectacle that helped to define British popular culture in the twentieth. Recent concerns over tickets prices have reignited long-standing fears that the very constituency that made the game what it was might be priced out of it. But the history of ticket pricing in football is more complex than is normally assumed. Gate prices alone have never determined the changing fortunes of the game. Shifting trends in leisure and entertainment and people’s disposable income are vital in understanding the rise and fall of attendances.
From its beginnings in the 1880s, the Football League insisted on a minimum admission charge so as to prevent price competition between its clubs. This was important because a culture of fierce loyalties to a single team had yet to emerge. Fans often switched support between neighbouring clubs according to who was performing best and who the opposition was.
Even during its early history, football was not a sport that all could afford to attend. The standard price of a shilling was often raised for glamorous cup ties, leading supporters to complain that the working fan was in danger of being priced out. This was a particular problem where unemployment was at its worst between the wars, and a number of small professional clubs in south Wales and northern England collapsed as a result. In the larger industrial cities, however, attendances could be remarkably resilient to wider economic conditions, suggesting the strength of an attractive team’s appeal.
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