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Rugby Union: A highly-charged occasion? Moseley fans heading for Northampton will need to fill their wallets before they set off. Brian Dick on the cost of watching rugby in National One.

Byline: Brian Dick

At the risk of treading on those highly sensitive toes at the British Olympic Association I don't think they've annexed the following adjectives as their own intellectual property the notion that elite rugby players are now fitter, faster, stronger, bigger and ultimately better than ever before, is indisputable.

Eighteen-stone wingers who run the 100 metres in even time are far from uncommon, even the streakiest of fly halves can bench-press the equivalent body weight of a reasonably mature Friesian calf and the pace of the game resembles Spinal Tap's amplifier - it's bypassed ten and gone straight to 11.

Professional rugby union is indeed a glossy and eye-catching spectacle, one that's a credit to the men and women who have poured countless hours and endless pounds into taking the sport from the muddy field to the packed state-of-the-art arena.

The Premiership's back on Saturday and - a few scheduling issues aside - I'm happy about it.

There's more than a touch of the top flight in National One this season, too. Northampton are welcome guests to our parish and I am sure that, like Bristol, Harlequins and Leeds before them, they will do the division and themselves justice.

But they have brought with them something extremely unpleasant and I'm not talking about Ben Cohen's strop - the concept of the pounds 40 ticket.

I accept the technical advancements and wonderful stadia need paying for, but by whom? The average supporter who wants to educate his children about the beauty of the game? No, no and thrice no.

It should be said that not every ticket costs as much. It is possible to pay half the price, but then you don't get a seat.

Moseley go to Franklin's Gardens this weekend where their followers will be asked to part with pounds 24 for the privilege of being tucked away in a corner. If things go according to reputation, they'll see plenty of their boys' backs for 40 minutes and very little for the rest of the time.

There are several reasons to choke at doling out what is the equivalent of a day's wages to some people, not least the fact that Northampton charge this season the same as they did last - relegation notwithstanding.

According to the Saints, going down has left them with a pounds 2 million shortfall in their income streams, not least from the loss of television revenue. Clearly, that needs to be addressed.

But surely there has to be some symbolic gesture towards their fans; even if they were to knock just a quid off every ticket band, it would be a tacit acknowledgement that they do not expect people to pay the same for what can be viewed - by some - as an inferior product.

Harlequins reduced their prices by a fiver two years ago and Leeds made a similarly appropriate move. It was not only good PR but gave them some moral currency when they increased their fees upon resumption of their Premiership status.

It'll be interesting to see, if and when Northampton go back up, whether they will put their prices up too. That really would be a smack in the teeth.

What makes pounds 40 really stick in the throat is the fact that they are rumoured to be receiving a parachute payment of pounds 2.2 million. That's roughly twelve times what the rest of the division receives from the governing body and yet they still charge more than double the majority of other National One outfits.

They claim their costs haven't gone away. They still have bank loans, water rates and stewards etcetera to pay, costs which make a significant reduction 'completely unfeasible from a business perspective'.

Interestingly their public don't seem to have swallowed the line. Exactly 11,507 spectators watched them beat London Welsh on opening day, a couple of thousand short of capacity. A worrying statistic at a club which prided itself on being 95 per cent full last year.

Clearly, First Division teams do not bring so many travelling fans as their Premiership counterparts but it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the good folk of Northampton don't see pounds 40 and First Division rugby as good value for money.

They also see their cousins at Bedford paying just pounds 18 for the best seat in Goldington Road, the same as those who fill Exeter's magnificent Sandy Park are asked to pay.

Interestingly, there is some correlation between league standing and admission charge. Pertemps Bees and Launceston are in the bottom three in the league table and, at pounds 13 for a seat, are the two cheapest to watch. Perhaps if they bunged up their price by a tenner, they'd shoot up the table.

Launceston's neighbours, Cornish Pirates, are so lenient on their followers who are asked to pay in a region often cited as one of the poorest in Europe.

In the Midlands, Coventry charge pounds 15 while Moseley ask pounds 13 and a pounds 2 supplement for a place in the roofless stand.

Credit must go to Doncaster and Rotherham who, at pounds 14, not only ask a reasonable sum for games but also play a very good standard, having finished close to the top last year.

And going back to that pounds 40 ticket, bear in mind the fact that it costs pounds 41 to watch Chelsea play Champions League football. Who wants to follow in those footsteps?

CAPTION(S):

Northampton's Mark Tucker is brought up short by Worcester's Mark Easter when the Warriors played at Franklin's Gardens last season. Moseley supporters heading for their team's League One game this weekend might have the same feeling Picture, BRYN LENNON/GETTY IMAGES
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 12, 2007
Words:946
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