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Mowbray says football's in danger of alienating fans
TONY MOWBRAY fears English football outside of the Premier League is in danger of disaster unless something can be done to make it more affordable for supporters to go to watch matches.
The Middlesbrough manager delivered the stark warning ahead of tonight's first Championship game at the Riverside Stadium since a new record low attendance (13,377) was set for the visit of Derby County 20 days ago.
This time Hull City, who are likely to bring a sizeable following to boost the crowd, are the visitors and Middlesbrough head in to the fixture on the back of consecutive away day victories at Watford and Brighton.
But Mowbray is concerned performances on the pitch might not be enough to reduce the number of empty red seats at the Riverside and suggested the issue could be more widespread.
He called for the Football League and Football Association to have a serious think about what can be done to give the game back to supporters, suggesting revenue from broadcasting could be used to reduce ticket prices across the board rather than top up club wage bills.
Mowbray said: "Football is a game of the people. It always has been for 130 years or however long it has been going. Commercialism, probably driven by the Premier League, is forgetting the life blood of the game.
"Lower down from the Premier League it is dying away. It is becoming more difficult because the resources aren't there. I can't understand why somebody, somewhere doesn't subsidise the paying public rather than filling the pockets of the players - and the managers if you want to say that.
"Why is the money in the game through sponsorship going in to the performers rather than subsidising the lifeblood? There seems to be a slight imbalance. I know it's a bit political, but why can't ticket prices be subsidised."
Mowbray admits he is constantly nagging the club's chairman Steve Gibson for more money to boost Middlesbrough's push to return to the Premier League. That is unlikely to change.
But he is pretty confident there are still thousands of fans around the Teesside area keen to go to watch his team but are not in a position to commit to the expense of forking out for 23 home league games alone.
The cost for the football fan has been further complicated this season by the Football League's decision to give clubs back-to-back home dates followed by a couple of away days already this season.
And after two trips to Brighton and Watford, Middlesbrough will follow up tonight's visit of Hull with a second home game inside four days against Bolton this Saturday. It will be the third time this season that supporters without a season ticket have been asked to pay for a match ticket two times inside a week.
Mowbray said: "First and foremost the Football League perhaps need to look at why the fixtures have become so close together. Historically you would play every other Saturday at home, so you would have two weeks to get ready, save enough cash to get a pint and a pie and go to the match. Now you have a game every three days."
Mowbray tried to come up with a solution, but then suggested there is no quick-fix and that it could already be too late.
"I don't know how you reverse the trend. I don't know the answer," he said. "The game has to be careful of alienating the fans. I don't know the statistics but most games in the Premier League are nearly full - not always.
"I am pretty sure it's not because of the football on the pitch, it's a pricing, fixtures, cost thing. We would not be getting 34,000 in the Championship. But last year we got 28,000 for the Sunderland game, a big game and Boxing Day we got 28,000. The fans are still there, it's how you bring them back."
While he would love to see something done to fill the Riverside - and other lower league grounds - on a regular basis, he remains determined in his pursuit of leading Middlesbrough to promotion.
His aspirations remain in place despite slashing the wage bill by more than half since he took over, but he thinks the money he has spent has been good for the club.
"Players are what win you games, which is what I have been saying to my chairman and chief executive," he said. "The fact we have got (Jonathan) Woodgate allows us to get a clean sheet because his concentration is brilliant, he is in the right place. He might cost more than the young guy coming from the academy, and he does, but that's what drives it.
"The fans want the best team, a winning team. There's a balance between subsidising and success. I don't know the answer. Maybe every team should have six homegrown players in their side to stop them buying a team? So they have to turn to their academy systems and homegrown players don't cost them the money."