'Pay What You Can', they said.
Pay What I Bloody Want To? Sorry, are you giving me the opportunity to choose a price to watch 90 minutes of an English Football League match?
'Yes', they said.
'Pay What You Can' was a scheme introduced to myself and the community of Crawley Town for Saturday's League 2 clash against Hartlepool United.
A minimum of £1 was the only small print from this tremendously generous initiative. After all, this kind of proposal is rare in life--especially within the world of football. As a fan of the beautiful game, you must take advantage of these infrequent offers. I snapped up two tickets for a fiver-a-piece.
Undervaluing the very people who keep organisations flowing - the workers - or the fans on this occasion, is often overlooked in these fast-paced, results, money-driven world we live in today - football or otherwise.
So, when Crawley Town reached out to its residents to offer them a chance to come and see their local team for a price which suited them, I grabbed it -- as did 4255 others. It appealed to a whole spectrum of people: Groups of friends, families, teenagers, previous followers, and current fans to name a few.
[A packed out terrace]
At the risk of making a financial loss on the day, the club saw beyond money. According to the programme notes the owners have a long-term plan to attract a new generation of fans to follow Crawley Town. At an educated guess, not just to the youngsters who haven't any real allegiance to any football team yet, but to the increasing percentage of older football fans who have been priced out of following their idols from the bigger leagues.
For me, it has always been the small things offered in life which tend to bring out more productivity in people - be it from the boss in the work environment who allows you to go home an hour early because you are doing a good job, to a football club practically giving tickets away for free, AKA Crawley Town FC.
Upon arriving at the bitterly cold Checkatrade stadium and taking my seat it was abundantly clear there was a different type of atmosphere inside. There were conversations taking place behind me which I have never heard within a football stadium.
'Thanks for inviting me, it makes a change for me'. A man said to his assumed friend from the row behind. This comment stood out for me and summed up the good deed Crawley Town were doing by introducing this very powerful scheme. It gave the power back to the supporter and allowed residents of Crawley or followers of football in general to bring friends or family members together to watch a good, honest game of football.
The scheme permitted people to step outside in to the bitter cold après #blizzard2017, to have a chat about the club's non-league days; it gave people a chance to reminisce about that FA cup clash up at Old Trafford against the biggest club in the land; it permitted current season-ticket holders a chance to showcase their team to a friend; it enabled people the chance to sip coffee from a polystyrene cup, to stand and chew on a reasonably priced greasy burger in the terraces, to drink a local ale inside the club bar -- in other words, it gave access to everyone.
This brings me on to the price of tickets in football. As an ex-season-ticket holder of a Premier League giant and a resident of Crawley. I gave up my season ticket due to constant unaffordable increases. This wouldn't have mattered to the owners of said club, as there would have been 100 other people waiting in line to grab my seat. As a football fan, it always pains me when I see endless half-filled or empty stadiums throughout the entire spectrum of the Football League and Premier League. I am no business man, but I feel more clubs should introduce these schemes on a structured well managed basis if we are to get more people attending.
[A couple of hundred committed Hartlepool fans]
The EFL Cup is a prime example of the need to introduce these schemes as the attendances of the games in this competition are painfully low. Prices are often reduced, granted, but all you ever see are huge swathes of empty seats. The lack of appeal of the cup competition obviously plays some part, but the price equally so. 'Half price for adults and under 16's go free' cup schemes are ok to a degree, but half price of £45 is still a lot of money for a parent or a shift worker to fork out for a mid-week match. Pay What You Can ultimately places bums on those empty seats and fills stadiums.
I sincerely hope other clubs follow suit and put in place real initiatives like the one offered by Crawley Town, and I am quietly confident you will see the interest generated from the surrounding communities of clubs.
The attendance on Saturday of 4255 was Crawley's biggest since the 2014/15 season and is simple proof that when the people at the top of organisations, take a step back from the corporate world and occasionally adopt some common sense, you get a response from people - that response being an increase of fans turning up at the turnstiles.
Well done Crawley Town.