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The people's game no more, football has long since sold its soul to highest bidder

By Henry McDonald

Published 11/02/2016

Huge support: NI fans will travel in thousands to France
Huge support: NI fans will travel in thousands to France

For the ticket tout eager to exploit the passion of authentic football supporters, it will be Nice in Nice (as The Stranglers once put it) this coming June.

With Uefa introducing a four-tiered pricing structure, which made it easier to obtain the highest-costing tickets for Northern Ireland's three European Championship finals group games, the only guaranteed winners off-the-field will be the cynics who sell theirs on for vastly inflated prices in Nice, Lyon and Paris.

And the biggest losers will be the Northern Ireland fans on lower incomes, who have less access to lower-priced tickets than those costing up to £112 for each game.

As a result of this gradation in pricing (and a larger bulk of tickets at the expensive end more available) once again the rich will get richer at the expense of poorer fans in a form of class discrimination all too common in 21st-century football.

As the Belfast Telegraph reveals today, greedy touts are asking up to £2,500 for a ticket for the game against Ukraine in Lyon from the many supporters for whom this trip to France will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In fact, who can blame the cynical so-called "supporters" who can afford to hoover up the expensive tickets if demand has outstripped supply - especially when there is a dearth of cheaper tickets on offer to the working-class fan.

The probability that thousands of Northern Ireland fans will be exploited at Euro 2016 smacks of injustice, but is hardly surprising - given the state of what used to be known as the people's game.

Last week, on the 77th minute, thousands of Liverpool supporters left Anfield in protest at a massive hike in match tickets, with some main stand seats an astronomical £77. It forced the club into scrapping that price last night.

High prices were made all the more nauseating because next season, television revenue for the English Premier League clubs combined will be around a staggering £8.3bn.

Although an Everton fan, my hat goes off to the Kopites for staging their protest and I admire them for standing up to corporate soccer greed when other sets of supporters, especially those of the so-called big clubs, like Chelsea, or Manchester United, keep silent.

Groups like The Spirit of Shankly deserve support for highlighting the rapacity of corporations, oil sheikhs and oligarchs exercising fiscal control on sides across England.

It is hard to know what Northern Ireland fans (or, indeed, supporters of the Republic of Ireland, England and Wales) can do in the face of Uefa joining the club-fuelled greed-fest that is driving the unemployed, the poor, the lower-paid and the economically struggling supporter out of stadia. Back in the late 1990s, Paul Whitehouse's comedic masterpiece The Fast Show presaged what was going to happen in football grounds all over England in the guise of an Arsenal fan sitting with a picnic basket talking to the camera.

In between sipping wine and nibbling on Roy Keane's "prawn sandwiches", the posh-voiced Gooner in the famous red and white shirt suggested that, perhaps, "Next year, I might support Manchester".

How we all laughed at that one.

Now, though, the joke is on us; no one is laughing and snobby-sounding Gunner supporters will probably be outside stadia in Nice, Lyon, Paris and other grounds as well across France this summer, flogging their top price tickets to the true, the dedicated and the desperate fans.

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