Everton are rightly being praised this week after it was announced they were freezing season ticket prices for a fourth year running, a welcome boost for ordinary fan in these uncertain economic times.
Though the ‘People’s Club’ moniker frustrates some supporters, who feel it promotes a plucky loser mentality on the field, there can be no doubt that off the pitch Everton tend to get things right.
Everton has always had a largely local fanbase and despite the global appeal of the Premier League they have never forgotten the average match-going fan.
They aren’t the only club to freeze season ticket prices of course - 11 out of the 20 Premier League sides froze their prices going into this season. But this is just a small part of a wider social initiative by the club to put the local community at its heart. A quick glance at the Everton in the Community website will show you some of the wonderful work that they do for people across the region.
What makes it so refreshing is because it is at odds with what is happening in the rest of the Premier League and beyond.
The continued greed of major European sides has once again sparked talk of a European Super League, a closed shop that would ensure all the Champions League cash is gobbled up by a precious few and to hell with the rest.
Then we had the huge PR disaster that was the £5million bonus for outgoing Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore. Such payments are par-for-the-course in big business - and the Premier League is big business. But it showed a stunning lack of self-awareness and empathy with the ordinary supporters who helped make the game what it is today and whose continued loyalty generates the stirring atmospheres that makes the Premier League product such a spectacle.
As the TV deals continue to increase, clubs are no longer as reliant on gate receipts to keep them going. Yet fans continue to get stung at every turn, with rising ticket prices, TV subscriptions and matches being rescheduled to days and times that make it incredibly difficult for away fans to attend.
It is, of course, very easy to get all misty-eyed about the good old days so it must be said that supporters have benefited in other ways - new modern stadia have transformed the matchday experience compared to the crumbling sheds of the 1980s. And as much as we complain about the TV companies, we can now watch our team play and have more access to manager and player interviews than ever before. Football, whether we like it or not, is big business and we are ever-loyal customers.
But at some point over the last 20 years the balance has been skewed too far in favour of the money men and away from those ordinary fans upon which the clubs were founded.
It has certainly reaped benefits for some clubs. By appealing to the wealthier, corporate fan they have seen matchday revenues skyrocket. But these are transient, fair weather fans who are unlikely to hang around in great number if results turn for the worse. This again explains why some clubs are desperate for a European Super League with no relegation, keeping their noses firmly in the trough forever more.
But that would remove one of the key pillars that makes this game so special - the ups, the downs, the joy, the pain, the hope that on any given day your team could beat anyone. Supporters who continue to follow their side through thick and thin are the ones clubs should be cherishing, but instead are the ones being sidelined.
Everton take the opposite approach, looking after those local fans who would support the club win, lose or draw. It may have cost the club financially over the past 20 years, with Goodison’s corporate facilities sadly lacking, but it is a firm foundation to build and expand upon as we look to jump to that next level at Bramley Moore.
Let’s not kid ourselves, there’s good economic sense behind Everton’s decision. With a new, expanded stadium on the horizon they need to stimulate demand and turn occasional fans into regular match-goers to ensure every seat is full and the tills ringing when the first ball is kicked on the banks of the royal blue mersey.
But it genuinely feels like Everton take a fan and community-first approach in everything they do, which is so refreshing in this day and age and one I hope will generate long-term benefits for everyone.