Speaking ahead of hosting the Champions League final tonight, the ITV presenter Adrian Chiles said that the biggest English clubs cannot match the vocal support produced by fans in other parts of Europe and appealed to clubs to consider lowering ticket prices.
“There’s no doubt about it – our places are too corporate. Arsenal, Man United and Man City between them on a European night can’t conjure up the same atmosphere that you get elsewhere on the continent,” he said.
Among television football presenters, many of whom are former players, Chiles has established himself as a voice of the terraces, and his concerns reflect a growing movement among supporters to make the game more accessible to the public and less dominated by big business. English football has been urged to learn from the German Bundesliga, which provides both finalists for this evening’s match at Wembley – Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.
Chiles, who left the BBC to become the face of ITV football, has been impressed with the fan experience at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena. “The obvious point to make in the German case would be the prices of season tickets and admission, which are much lower. You are pricing an awful lot of people out here, and maybe that makes a difference,” he said.
“At Bayern I love it when they score and the announcer goes ‘Tor! [goal]’. Then he says ‘The scorer, Mario …’ and the crowd all go ‘Gomez!’, they repeat that three times, and then he says ‘the score, Bayern Munchen …’ and 70,000 of them go ‘Zwei!’ and the announcer says ‘FC Barcelona ...’ and they go ‘Nnnnn-ull!’, and then he says ‘Danke’ and they all go ‘Bitte!’. It’s just superb.” And at Paris St-Germain’s recent Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona “the noise was absolutely deafening”, he said. “We were pitch side and it lifted you off your feet. Everybody was chanting in unison. There’s nothing in this country to touch it.”
He was surprised to attend Manchester City’s Champions League game with Ajax and see thousands of unsold seats. “I can’t understand why, at the grounds that don’t sell out every week, tickets aren’t priced ‘to go’. There must be some mechanism for doing that because most money is coming from TV anyway, so make sure there’s a bum on every seat. It’s basic economics – if supply is exceeding demand then something has got to change price-wise.”
Chiles said the roots of pricing problems in English football are deep. He recalled making a BBC radio Working Lunch programme – “donkey’s years ago” – about a Chelsea-supporting London postman. “I asked him ‘Do you go?’ and he looked at me as if I’d asked where he moored his yacht. If a postman can’t afford to watch then something’s wrong.”
Chiles said he was “very grateful” for the privileged position he has – and revealed the cultural interests of his co-presenters during trips abroad. In Warsaw for last year’s Euro championships, Chiles took his fellow Catholics Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira (the fiercest of rivals in their playing days) to attend Mass. “It was a lovely experience and something you never thought you would do, with those two particularly – Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira had been kicking seven bells out of each other on the pitch and suddenly it’s all ‘peace be with you’.”
Chiles says he has overcome fears that Keane might savage him for his lack of playing experience. “We get on better than it looks. He’s just got that sort of look about him.”
In Madrid to cover the Champions League this season, Chiles took co-presenter Gareth Southgate and Tony Pastor, head of ITV Sport, to the Prado, the Spanish national art museum. This “amazing experience” was interrupted by Chiles catching sight of a list of 11 great masters on a museum wall. For the next two days, Chiles, Southgate and fellow pundit Lee Dixon argued over how the artists might line up on a football field. “We had Greco in goal, Caravaggio and Velazquez were obviously centre halves, Lee Dixon picked Tintoretto as a right back, Rembrandt and Poussin are holding midfield, Tiziano [Titian] has got to be wide right, Goya in the hole and Murillo up front. I got the team sheet printed and put in a frame.”
During his time presenting ITV’s Daybreak, Chiles had a reputation for looking miserable. Clearly, he is having more fun now. “It’s tough if it’s going well,” he says of breakfast television. “So if it’s not going particularly well then getting up at half three is not what you want.”
The former presenter of Match of the Day 2 left the BBC in 2010 after The One Show became an unexpected success. Angry that Chris Evans was to present the programme on Fridays with Christine Bleakley, Chiles went to ITV – and Bleakley came with him. But Daybreak didn’t find an audience. It’s not clear what will happen with his panel-based That Sunday Night Show, which has had three series.
You get the feeling that, with his varied interests, he would like to do more. He has ambitions to make documentaries for television and radio. His mother is Croatian and he would like to make a retrospective on the break-up of Yugoslavia, 20 years ago. Last week he was invited to meet the Croatian president Ivo Josipovic at the Ritz Hotel in London.
So he concentrates on ITV’s football, where he must perform in the brief moments between ad breaks and live action. He is preparing to cover next year’s World Cup in Brazil and ITV has landed rights to cover the qualifying games for the 2018 tournament in Russia. Not bad work for a fan who admits “I read the game very badly”, despite having been watching West Bromwich Albion since 1974. “Sometimes I feel like a bit of a cheat – I’ve gone to some lovely city to watch a game of football, and you don’t feel that you do very much.”