James Shield’s Sheffield United Column: My thoughts on season tickets and bringing about change
Not so long ago, during the course of an interview about a subject not entirely unrelated to this, one of the guys sitting in front of my dictaphone delivered a pretty memorable quote.
"Lots of people talk about being a community club," he said. "But that's all they do. Talk. But I reckon we actually do more than than. We truly want to be a club for the community."
The 'we', of course, was Sheffield United, who earlier this week launched their latest season ticket campaign. They should be applauded for keeping prices competitive by football standards. At a shade over £350 for an adult renewal on The Kop - £15.23 per Championship game, or under £19 if Chris Wilder's team reach the Premier League - that seems like pretty good value.
But it set me thinking. Given United's desire to place themselves at the heart of the city, how can they tweak the programme in future to further their social credentials? What type of schemes might turn an essentially commercial operation into something which demonstrates football, despite the moral panic provoked by a small number of unsavoury incidents, is actually a force for good?
Given that Sheffield was once dubbed the 'Low Pay Capital' of the county after an investigation discovered hourly rates were 10 per cent below the national average, one way would be to guarantee schemes designed to spread the cost of a season ticket are always interest free. Given the obvious advantage of receiving the majority of income generated up front, I can appreciate why this might cause an issue. Particularly when it comes to budgeting for the summer transfer window.
But if someone can demonstrate they are in receipt of the National Living Wage, or even unable to work because they are a carer or suffering from a medical condition, it seems a shame to think others might profit from their situation. There also, across the game in general, needs to be greater transparency about how administration fees are calculated, what they are actually used for, and how exactly they are spent.
United's Community Foundation does some excellent, inspirational work beyond Bramall Lane. Before November's derby against Sheffield Wednesday, I enjoyed the privilege of listening to one of its tutors describe how a youngster, previously involved in local gangs, had eventually chosen a different path after becoming involved with one of its outreach projects. Perhaps those who enroll in future might, providing they demonstrate commitment, willing and progress, be awarded a season ticket as a reward? The same could happen for those seeking gainful employment who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves on the dole. Hartlepool and Fulham have done something similar in the past with impressive results.
Doubtless there are other avenues worthy of exploration, including folk who make significant donations to things such as the food bank United organised during the build-up to a recent match. (People who complained on social media about well-paid footballers being used to promote the initiative would be better, unless they are involved in bringing about worldwide economic reform, using their energy to post snide Tweets about something else).
Of course, some folk will argue that rolling-out any of these ideas is unfair on those who can and do pay in full. I understand the sentiment but don't necessarily agree. Not least because, as a hopeless footballing romantic, I view clubs as families rather than corporate entities. And families should look after their own.
If something benefits the community, it benefits us all. As Wilder said himself when the season ticket fees were announced: "The sky is the limit for the future when we are united."