GO ON. Think of a number. We are past season ticket D-Day and there is an ominous silence. No news is good news right? Errrrr. I’m not totally convinced about that.
My feeling is that had the football loving public of Greater Teesside responded in their replica shirted masses to the mouth-watering prospect of Alves banging in the goals with the bullets supplied by Harper, Digard and Emnes, or if the brilliant pocket money priced pulling power of the ÃÂ£95 ticket replaced Wii, Guitar Hero and having a crafty gasper behind the bikesheds in our youths’ affections then we would have heard all about it by now.
The official line is that the applications are still being processed because, of course, the ticket office has left all the envelopes unopened between May and Saturday’s final call. And then, there are still the ones to count from last week when Keith Lamb issued his final rallying cry in finest Doggy Market costermonger style: “roll up, roll up, three new faces by next week,” thus making himself a hostage to fortune in the way Gibbo did with his “spectacular signings” line.
To be honest I really don’t know. Generally the trend is slowly downwards and most seasons you can guesstimate to within less than a thousand how many season tickets will be sold but this summer has seen a lot of mixed messages from the market and I am struggling to come up with a figure I am confident about. My best guess is 18,000 or thereabouts but even then I have a dark fear that such a number may be hopelessly optimistic.
The club have done what they think they can on pricing. While we can argue till we are blue in the face it is overpriced as a product, Boro will point out that after three years of price freezes it is relatively cheap for the Premiership and besides at the full priced adult end of the crowd demographic where the drift has been most marked I am not sure that cost is even the most pressing issue. Anecdotal evidence suggests a lot of committed long-time fans in that group are calling it a day for a whole host of non-football related issues, at least not ones that can be solved with a few signings.
They are bored, frustrated with an uncompetitive league, overpaid diving mediocre millionaires and the entire super soaraway Sky Sports experience. Their friends have drifted away and now they are sat next to people they have little in common with in a stadium that only rarely hits the atmospheric heights of the Holgate and most often is either shrouded in sullen silence or consumed by griping and sniping and a general air of grumpy whinging from people who demand to much but contribute little but bile. They feel increasingly estranged from the club, passive customers rather than active participants. And many season ticket holders wonder whether they are valued, especially those who felt wounded by the double-edged sword being waved around by the chief executive during last year’s renewals brinkmanship. Their universe, and their position in it, has changed and a lot of old timers are reassessing whether they want to be part of it. Lopping a quid off won’t change all that.
Yet for a crucial section price IS an issue. The credit crunch is taking grip. Mortgage payments, utility bills and household costs are nudging up and petrol costs soaring while the icy fears of wider recession and a return if the spectre of unemployment are looming in the background not to mention the prospect of a Tory government and for many Teessiders who were affected by the darkest days of Thatcherism and its devastating impact on the Northern economy that will be stabbing away urgently at panic buttons deep within the pysche. A storm is coming and when it is a question of pruning costs in readiness as many are – I know we are – then the expensive hobby of football becomes one that is ever harder to justify in a family budget, especially when it comes with related expenditure of beer and bovril and transport.
There is also a section where football is the issue. I have been told by a string of people that they have not renewed because despite the glorious last day 8-1 battering of Svenchester there have been far too many drab, disappointing home games. Yes, there were good displays against Arsenal and Manchester United but for many the most marked memories are those of the lack-lustre wading in treacle of games against Reading and Bolton.
And worse still, there is still a simmering anger at the catastrophic FA Cup no-show against Cardiff, a game that will live in infamy as one of the biggest missed sitters in Boro’s history. The mere mention of the game can bring some quickly back to the boil.
Set against that is the neat footwork of the other end of the demographic on the kids pricing. The fiver a game unaccompanied ticket deserves massive praise, perhaps more than the club have had. The slow limp towards a fat and fifty crowd, crusty and gray and increasingly cynical in outlook had to be halted. The season ticket sell-out strait-jacket had squeezed out a generation of supporters, maybe two generations. The crowd was suffering from an on-going process of middle age spread and Meldrewisation we have covered before.
The essential new blood of teenagers making their rite of passage, going to the game mob-handed to be passionate, rowdy and unrestrained by parental bums on adjacent seats can be a vital life-saving transfusion for the club. The groups of lads from the estates – the raw material that Gibbo and Mogga and most of us on here were hewn from – were priced out and frozen out. It was essential that the club took urgent action to address that.
I hope and pray that ten thousand teenagers take up the fiver-a-game offer and that the Riverside becomes a seething cauldron of barely restrained and sharply focussed playground passion. I want the ground to be all testosterone and achingly hip fashion, to be street sharp chanting and that the club and the rest of the crowd learn to harness that emotion and turn it into a new cultural revolution that can give Boro the tangible edge and unstoppable drive it had in the immediate post-Riverside and Juninho years.
I hope for that – but as yet I don’t know personally anyone who has signed up to the new Red Cadets. Maybe that is just me. I don’t hang out with teenagers and most of my friends and peers have children still too young to be given the freedom to roam unaccompanied.
All inquiries as to sales figures have been met by noncommittal generic responses but the numbers will soon be out, for good or ill. As I say, my best guess is 18,000, with a lot of kids making up the gaps left by an accelerating rate of desertion in the 40-50 age group. What do you think? How many season tickets have we sold? And how many can we add if we get a good start of make a few key signing? How low can the crowd dip this term if we don’t? Will the 20,000 barrier be broken in the league?