IT has been well over a year since I mentioned football in this column so I make no apologies for using the beautiful game as the subject matter for this week’s piece.
Millions of football widows let out a huge sigh of relief this week as the domestic season came to an end at the weekend with the play-off finals and the Champions League final.
The next four weeks will probably see a load of grumpy blokes being dragged around shopping centres every weekend until next season’s fixture list is published.
The self-same blokes will then be actively forcing their wives and girlfriends into shops and even treating them to the odd pair of shoes or a nice new outfit in order to bank enough brownie points so that, from August, Saturday afternoons will once again be spent cheering on their team.
I’m sure this happens all over the country and has certainly been true in Hartlepool for many years.
The last few seasons however, have seen crowds gradually falling at Victoria Park and despite the best efforts of everyone at Hartlepool United to attract fans to games, attendances have certainly been suffering.
Perhaps more and more of these “blokes” are not winning enough Brownie points with their partners and are being made to stay at home to do odd jobs?
Maybe, but I think one of the more plausible reasons is that, as Pools’ fans, we have been spoiled over the last decade or so.
Numerous appearances in the play-offs including a final at Cardiff, a couple of relegations and some fabulous football being served up along the way has made following Hartlepool United really exciting.
Two or three years of relative mediocrity and mid-table finishes has perhaps left many fans feeling as if something is missing and apathy has set in.
The biggest reason for the decline in attendances though has got to be the cost.
With the cost of virtually everything spiralling upwards and the recession really starting to bite, people have to make quite stark choices and if it comes down to paying twenty quid for a couple of hours’ entertainment or putting petrol in the car or food on the table, a ticket to the match is always going to be towards the bottom of the list.
Hartlepool United has recognised this and deserves huge credit for the unprecedented offer that is now open to all fans.
If they manage to sell 4,000 season tickets, the total cost to watch all 23 home league games and get priority for any cup or play-off games is only £100.
It works out at less than £4.35 per game, which is amazing value for money.
The offer has generated great excitement amongst the fans with many rallying round to promote it far and wide. The launch of the ticket prices, quickly followed by the signing of former Newcastle player Nobby Solano and the news that all of our best players were being retained has really whetted people’s appetite for next season and is starting to attract back some of the fans that have drifted away in recent years.
Four thousand tickets seem like a tall order on the face of it but sales are averaging around one hundred a day.
I’m certain the 1,500 or so current season ticket holders will renew for next year and the sales so far seem to indicate that around 60 to 70 per cent are to new fans so the signs are looking good.
I’m aware of local businesses who are buying a few tickets in order to treat their staff throughout the year. There are fans of the three big North-East teams who are buying a ticket so they can watch Pools while their team plays away.
Sky Sports has created a new generation of armchair football fan who watch the Premiership games from the comfort of their own living room.
Nothing beats actually being at a live game and with the wonders of modern technology, there should be no excuse for putting Manchester United or Chelsea before support for your home town club.
It is an honour and a privilege for a town to host a professional football club and in Hartlepool United, we are extremely lucky to be able to boast about a club and a team that is holding its own in League One for a record number of years amongst some of the biggest names in football.
As we have seen with our rivals, Darlington, league status can slip away very easily and with it, a chasm appears in the genetic make up of the place.
When the club does well, the whole town gets behind them. Think back to one of the promotion seasons or the play-off final in Cardiff.
The town was absolutely buzzing. Everyone was excited and happy and talking about the football club.
Putting on my rose-tinted spectacles for a moment, I think the town deserves a football club. Hartlepool United and the owners have bent over backwards with this offer to show their commitment to the town and it is now up to us all to show that we deserve a football club.
Four or five thousand fans filling the Vic every other week next season will make an enormous difference to the team and has got to be worth half a dozen points alone.
I’m sure we will bring in another couple of signings over the summer and I’m absolutely confident that we can, once again, put in a big challenge for promotion.
There really is no down side to all of this so what are you waiting for? Nowhere else will you find better value for money.
The council also needs to play its part in supporting Hartlepool United.
Positive talks are on-going around the future of the ground and the whole area in which it stands. I am hoping that the summer will see some resolutions and some very positive progression towards what could be some very exciting outcomes.
Finally, I have to confess that apathy towards had started to creep in with me. I let my season ticket go last year and missed a few games due to work and family commitments and I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t that bothered.
This offer has definitely blown away the cobwebs though and I’m more excited about the new season than ever.
I’ll be getting my season ticket this week and I’ll also be buying my son one for the first time, if only to try and curb his enthusiasm for all things Man United.
I’ve already started my quest to win some brownie points at home and by August I should have enough to see me through what could be the most exciting season ever following Hartlepool United.