Irish League beats English Premiership on value for money
Cross-channel top flight football has lost touch with supporters, charging them huge prices to see games or wear the team colours, but in Northern Ireland going to a match is still very affordable. But which club comes out on top? Adam McKendry tots up the scores
Last season, 248,524 people passed through the turnstiles at Irish League matches, confirming that the local game continues to trend in the right direction as the years go by. On average, 1,090 people attended each game in the Danske Bank Premiership, with clubs benefiting from an increased footfall both in terms of support and also financially.
Fans across the country opt to spend their Saturday afternoons at a football ground, spending their hard-earned cash on putting their weight behind the local side and enjoying the day out with their friends and family.
But while there have been frustrations across the pond over the amount it costs to follow a team, with Arsenal fans expected to pay £891 for a 19-game season ticket and Manchester United fans being charged £183 for a full replica kit (shirt, shorts and socks), there hasn't been the same outcry here.
Admittedly, the quality of football in the Premier League is much better than that of our own Danske Bank Premiership, but it is still rather intriguing to see what comparisons we can draw between the two leagues.
Here, we take a look at how much it really costs for a fan to attend a game in the Irish League, which clubs are charging fans the most and which are giving fans an easy time of it...
Single game tickets
The best way for any casual fan to go to a game on a Saturday afternoon is to simply walk up to the turnstiles on the day. All clubs offer tickets on the gate, with sell-outs a rarity across the Premiership.
To attend an Irish League game, you're going to pay the same price at practically every ground, with 11 of the 12 sides offering tickets at an incredibly affordable £11 for adults, while for concessions it is £7 at most grounds.
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The only outliers are Warrenpoint Town, who are even more affordable, with their adult tickets priced at just £8 for a match at Q Radio Arena.
For those who can't bear to miss a home game, there is of course the option to purchase a season ticket, which covers every match in the league, as well as giving priority booking for cup matches.
That means, for 19 matches, you can be guaranteed a spot either in the stand or on the terraces, without having to worry about the potential of a sell-out match or having to pay on the day.
All clubs offer them, with varying prices, but all offer fans discounts on what it would cost if they had bought individual tickets for each game instead.
The cheapest season tickets can be found at Cliftonville and Dungannon Swifts, which offer them for £140, which is a £69 saving on the season compared to buying an individual ticket for each game instead.
In comparison, Ards season tickets are priced at £165, which makes them the most expensive in the league at only a £44 discount.
Defending Irish League champions Crusaders are among those to offer season tickets for £150, alongside Linfield and newly promoted sides Institute and Newry City.
Meanwhile, for a season ticket at Irish Cup champions Coleraine, Ballymena United or Glentoran, you'll have to shell out £160.
Putting that in context, Arsenal's eye-watering £891 looks far too much, particularly when you add in travel over to England for the games, while newly-promoted Wolves increased their season ticket prices by £125.
It's the natural attire for attending your club's games, right?
You walk into the ground, the club colours on your shirt and your passion and pride blazing for all to see.
But it's not cheap.
While still considerably less expensive than having to fork out for your favourite Premier League team's jersey, Irish League clubs still put a hefty price tag on buying the team's kit for the current season.
The majority of teams charge £45 for an adult home shirt, with Ballymena United, Cliftonville, Coleraine, Crusaders, Glentoran and Linfield all selling their shirts at that price.
Compare that to Dungannon Swifts, who again come in at the cheapest price in this category, as they sell their shirts for £32 - which is an absolute bargain when compared with the rest of the league.
Ards, Glenavon and Newry City also offer slight discounts on the most common price, with a jersey for each team costing you £40 at the clubs' stores.
It's a lot cheaper than if you wished to buy a Premier League shirt, with Tottenham Hostpur's junior shirts outpricing all of them by costing £52, while their adult shirt is £65 and Liverpool's home shirt sits at £70.
But Manchester United 'win' this category. To deck yourself out in the full kit - that is, the shirt, shorts and socks - you'll be charged an incredible £183 simply to have a Red Devil emblazoned on your chest.
You could buy five Dungannon shirts for that and still have a good bit left over.
At the ground
Some fans will inevitably buy something additional at the ground, be that a drink, a programme or a burger and chips from the various vans dotted around the grounds.
A programme can serve as a souvenir or a memento from your day at the game, as well as a place for new fans to go for club information, with prices fluctuating between £2 and £3 between different clubs, while food will usually cost just under £5, again with minor differences at each club.
On the road
Of course, fans have to travel to games and, depending on how far you're willing to go to see your team, it will end up costing more money. For instance, an Institute fan wanting to go and see their team play away to Warrenpoint Town will have to pay more in fuel money - as opposed to a Linfield fan wanting to see a derby match against Glentoran at The Oval.
Meanwhile, for those who do travel across the water to games in the Premier League, there are ways to save money, but the amount paid in contrast to going to a local game is massive, obviously.
Manchester United's Carryduff supporters club offers a great deal for supporters who want to go over for a weekend to see a match at Old Trafford, with one member revealing it costs him just £495 for him and his two children to travel over for a game at the weekend with the club.
That pays for a two-night stay just outside Manchester, their match ticket and their travel, with only spending money required.
However, for those who travel over for games on their own booking, things can get even more pricey, with flights from Belfast to London coming in at £94 if they're willing to travel there and back on the day, and that's even before buying tickets.
For this, we will look at which club offers the best rates for a game on a Saturday. While everybody's match day experience is different, to determine which side offers the cheapest day out it'll be a case of looking at how much it costs to buy a ticket, a shirt, a programme and some food.
Dungannon are by far the cheapest team in the league, with a day out at Stangmore Park costing a fan just £50, aided by the very affordable jerseys, while a season ticket holder at the Swifts is paying only £46.37.
For a Dungannon fan who bought a shirt at the start of the season, a season ticket and then purchases a programme and some food from each game, it works out at £305 for the season.
For most teams, a day out at an Irish League game will be £63, and if you opt not to buy the shirt then you can have a good day out with the family at a game for under £20 each, which is not bad value at all.
And don't forget, the amount paid by fans pales in comparison to the Premier League in England, leaving the Irish League as a far more affordable product than that across the water on the mainland.
So go down and support your local team this weekend - it's not as expensive as you think!