Football without fans is nothing, so says the banner above. Certainly it is almost impossible to argue that the sport could survive in its current guise without the levels of support from fans across the world. It is by a distance the most popular sport on the globe and packs stadiums full on a weekly basis in almost every country.
So what then if supporters followed through on the possibility of turning their back on football? Would it really become nothing? Cease to exist? It seems hard to fathom that a significant number of football fans, whether domestically or all around Europe, would be prepared to boycott en masse. Owners and Chief Executives will continue to be able to swallow the pill of banners and stadium protests so long as their customers are in the ground and have paid their money. As long as fans are continuing to line the pockets of their club, regardless of the perceived extortionate price they pay, then nothing will change. Why would any organisation reduce the price of their product if the demand doesn’t drop sufficiently?
It is easy to appreciate and understand the position that this puts football supporters in. Fans has built up a strong affinity with their clubs, for a variety of reasons, and turning their back on that, even if only for a couple of matches is unthinkable for many. Part of supporting a club is that one sticks with them through thick and thin, regardless of results, the weather or the quality of play. It is the most admirable trait of football fans, but is arguably the one that stops them from taking action when they feel aggrieved at their treatment.
FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon are two examples of supporters that have had the fortitude and will to follow through on their frustration and anger – regardless of what you may think of their actions. However, despite what the supporters at FC United have achieved, Old Trafford is still full to the brim almost every matchday. In the ensuing years however, ticket prices at Manchester United have stayed at similar levels; so whilst a chunk of the fan base has left to begin their own footballing venture, the wheel keeps spinning in Salford, and with the debt levels having been reduced by the Glazer family, that level of supporter disengagement appears to have little effect.
So what will it take for comprehensive supporter disengagement? Even higher ticket prices? More signs of contempt by those who own the clubs or just a slow eroding of the quality of the product? Until we see something like this and supporters follow through on their frustration and anger, we will never find out what ‘football without fans’ will be like.