Belfast Telegraph

Guus Hiddink: Fans are crucial to success of the game

By Matt McGeehan

Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink insists Barclays Premier League clubs should not forget "the man in the street" in the row over rising ticket prices.

An estimated 10,000 Liverpool fans staged a walk-out of Anfield during their league match against Sunderland last weekend in protest at increases next season, which included a new £77 match ticket and the club's first £1,000 season ticket.

Liverpool's owners have since announced a U-turn on the proposed increases, and Premier League bosses have been quick to jump to the defence of the paying public.

Aston Villa manager Remi Garde has joined Alan Pardew and Slaven Bilic in warning against price hikes by suggesting empty stadiums would be the result.

And Hiddink, who returned to Chelsea in December after a previous stint at Stamford Bridge in 2009, believes the fans come first.

"I've heard and read several statements of several colleagues of mine, which are very sensible and with a lot of common sense," said Hiddink, whose side host Newcastle this evening.

"Football has changed in the last few years a lot regarding organisation, television rights, sponsors. It's a very interesting world for broadcasters, for sponsors.

"But we must not forget it's about the players who like to perform and, equally in importance, the public. The man in the street who likes to see high level football.

"I was happy to read my colleagues have a similar point of view: that the public is the most important thing."

Garde, whose Villa side are bottom of the table and eight points adrift of safety, said: "I can say everybody in this business has to be aware fans in football are very important.

"When you are young why do you want to become a footballer? You want to play in stadiums full of people supporting you - or sometimes not supporting you - but you want that," he added.

"Empty stadiums would be a shame. We have to make sure the family can still go to watch big players and games. It's a balance which is difficult to find."

More protests are planned at Arsenal's clash with top-of-the-table Leicester tomorrow, which has been moved to a noon kick-off for television coverage.

The late change has infuriated a number of Foxes fans and some now plan to enter the stadium five minutes after kick-off in protest - citing money lost on travel and accommodation booked before the alteration.

Their battle has been backed by Arsenal fans group REDaction - who have called on the home crowd to support Leicester's protest by applauding them into the ground.

But Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has called on both sets of supporters to cancel any in-game protests in what could prove a pivotal 90 minutes.

"You want everybody there when the game starts,'' Wenger said. "For me, the game is a joy and everyone has to be part of it. You can protest before and after, but during the game, you want everybody to be there.

"It is a moment of happiness in your life. Life is not every day fantastic - sometimes it's boring, sometimes it's difficult for many people. Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don't miss it."

Eddie Howe has revealed he has his own issue with tickets at Bournemouth - there are simply not enough to go around for tiny 11,500 capacity Dean Court.

The Cherries boss said: "It is a slightly different problem."

Belfast Telegraph


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