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October 28, 2009

Theodore Dalrymple makes a modest proposal: Let us subsidise tickets to football matches

Posted by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple suddenly becomes convinced that we need to subsidise tickets to football matches.

There was a riot yesterday at a football match between Barnsley and Manchester United. As was only to be expected, there was widespread condemnation of the behaviour of the fans, which in several publications was called mindless.

What, actually, does the word "mindless" mean here? Were the fans unconscious, or in a state of automatism, such as sometimes occurs after an epileptic fit? After synchronised swimming, do we now have synchronised epilepsy? Surely not. Perhaps, then, mindless simply means ill-considered, or even wicked.

To designate it thus, of course, is a convenient way of avoiding deeper and more awkward questions about the behaviour of the fans. Surely no one would behave in this way unless he were distressed about something, unless there were a deep sense of having suffered an injustice within him.

A clue is to be found in the fact that some of the fans ransacked refreshment stalls, virtually imprisoning staff behind them, and looting money from them. To any compassionate person, this can mean only one thing: that they were hungry, or even starving, and had not enough money to satisfy their most elementary need for sustenance.

Why did they not have enough money?

The answer, of course, is that they had paid so much for their ticket to watch the match. I am told by someone who knows, as I do not, that the average price of admission to a match of one of the best teams can be as much as 50. This is a lot of money, slightly more than 60 before basic rate income tax (to say nothing of National Insurance), especially for the kind of person to whom football is very important.

It is clear, then, that if we are to get to the root of the problem of riots at football matches, and thereby to eradicate them, we must reduce the price of football tickets so that the fans are not reduced either to hunger or to penury (or to both) by attending matches.

Repression is quite useless, at best a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. Better or more policing will never have any effect on rioting considered as a social phenomenon, and viewed in the only correct way, that is to say statistically.

How are we to reduce the price of tickets? Clearly it would be counterproductive to take economy measures such as reducing the pay of footballers, for then they would simply go elsewhere. This is even more certain because most of our best players are foreigners anyway, and cannot be assumed to play for clubs like Liverpool because of the attractiveness of the local life-style. They would up boots and depart, and Britain badly needs their talent, our own players being too inclined to drink and brawl in nightclubs to maintain a very high standard.

No, the obvious solution is for the government to subsidise tickets, a la Covent Garden. Let ordinary people pay what they can afford - say five pounds - that will allow them to fill themselves up with hot dogs, hamburgers and tomato ketchup without financial strain. Then there will be no looting of refreshment stands, either for food or for money.

I hear some heartless people say that this is nonsense, that if people can afford to go to a football match at the price they pay for the ticket, they don't need subsidies that will allow them to buy fast food as well. They can afford it without subsidy. In any case, football is a luxury and not a necessity: if they cannot afford both football matches and food, they should go without the former.

But would it not be unjust to condemn people to a lack of entertainment just because they lacked the financial wherewithal to obtain it? It is not true that such entertainment is a luxury: it is as basic a human necessity as, say, food and health care. This is demonstrated by the fact that no society ever examined by social anthropologists, however poor or primitive it might be, has been without its means of entertainment. And if entertainment is a fundamental human need, it must also be a fundamental human right. We all have a right to be entertained.

Hence subsidising tickets to football matches is no different in principle from (say) subsiding bread in Egypt. Such subsidies ensure that everyone gets at least a minimum of what he requires. Subsidies are social justice.

Subsidies of football tickets would ensure that those even poorer and more desperate than the rioters at Barnsley could attend matches: it would democratise football and bring it to people who would otherwise be excluded, at least from seeing it live. The high price of tickets is a manifestation of that terrible, if relatively recently-discovered phenomenon, social exclusion. There could be no better way of excluding exclusion than by making football tickets cheap.

Furthermore, it is very likely that many of the people who do in fact pay 50 for tickets, even those who do not riot, cannot really afford to do so. Rather than riot, they and no doubt their families suffer in silence. If they pay 50 for a ticket, that means they have 50 less to spend on something else, fresh fruit and vegetables for example, or other morally desirable goods. It is even possible that some are forced by the high price of tickets to deny their children the latest trainers that they need, thus driving them - their children - into crime from sheer desperation. All this suffering could be avoided if only the price of tickets to football matches were lowered.

Let us have done, then, with the futile expedient of repression at football matches, which take up so much police time. It is time to get to the root of the problem, which is the unjust nature of our society. By making attendance at football matches so much more difficult, from the financial point of view, for some rather than for others, this unjust nature is making riots such as those at Barnsley inevitable. It is time for a hypothecated tax on the prosperous to subsidise tickets to football matches.

Theodore Dalrymple is a writer and worked for many years as an inner city and prison doctor. He is the author of the author of Junk Medicine: Doctors, Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy and In Praise of Prejudice: The Necessity of Preconceived Ideas.

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I fear many people will think you actually mean this.

Posted by: Archie Wedderspoon at October 29, 2009 11:31 PM

Sounds cool for Old Trafford. But for Man City you would have to pay me to watch.

Posted by: Michael at October 30, 2009 02:48 PM

I endorse the proposal, and would like to see it broadened.

Tattoos and piercings, for instance, should --- given their cost and increasing popularity --- be subsidised from the public purse. For a very large segment of the population, these adornments are identity itself: their lack can bring feelings of alienation from one's peer group, leading to low self-esteem and depression. ...And I need hardly point out that psychiatric treatment constitutes a significant and increasing portion of public spending on health.

Accordingly, I believe it would not only be more humane, but also more cost-effective, for body art to be provided free by the National Health Service, at the point of need. And it would certainly be popular amongst the professionals, demoralised by years of creeping bureaucracy, and eager to make a difference to lives once more. Indeed, the prospect of being involved in such a forward-looking initiative might --- I daresay --- entice even the author himself back from his French idyll.

So what say you, good doctor? I can picture you now, aglow with job satisfaction, lovingly inking spiders' webs on elbows, letters on knuckles, stars on breasts and putting rings through, well, whatever they put rings through these days.

All those in favour...

Posted by: P. H. at November 2, 2009 09:31 PM

P.H.- Or maybe the phrase should be 'body art to be provided free by the National Health Service, at the point of greed'.

Just a thought.

Posted by: JR at November 24, 2009 04:41 PM
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