History of Football in Objects: The Ticket

Looking at any aspect of history means travelling back in time and across the face of human behaviour.   This series of articles on the awaysection.com tries to tell a history of football by deciphering the messages which objects communicate.   These will be messages about fans, teams, cities, stadiums or football players.  But the objects will also interact with different moments in football history and how this relates to the current state of the game.

Objects are of course signals from the past; a reliable truthful source that avoids conjecture by using the easily retrieved and used as ‘evidence’.  Sometimes these objects have meanings far beyond the intention of the original maker. These objects are the meticulously shaped sources of history which tell a story across the game from its earliest inception.

This series will include all sorts of objects nearly all admired, known, preserved or still in use within the game.  They range from the match ticket to the rattle and through to the football itself.  Most of the objects featured (although not all of them) are part actual collections and the history that emerge from these objects will not be unfamiliar to lots of others.

If you want to tell the story of football; a history that does not privilege just one team or theme, you cannot do this through words and pictures alone.  Football is far too partisan a sport to explain it simply in words. Ideally, a history of football, as the best museums show whether at the San Siro Museum in Milan or at the National Football Museum in Manchester, is done through exploring fans, players and the objects they use and interact with when going to the match.

Number 1: The Match Ticket

Most conversations about football tickets these days surround questions of ‘availability’ and ‘cost’.  Not so long ago the price of entering a football match was relatively cheap compared to the other forms of leisure and entertainment available.  A look back at a simple collection of match tickets from the 1980’s provides evidence of this value for money.

For example entry to a Scotland v England international football friendly in May 1989 could be obtained by an adult for around £6. Meanwhile, supporters who attended the Liverpool v Arsenal league decider at Anfield the previous evening were able to obtain match tickets for under £9.

While the £6 at Hampden Park simply got you a place on a crumbling open terrace (and a less than ideal view of the action on the field) the match experience ‘vibe’ around the supporter was real.  These days it’s quite realistic to have to pay up to £55 for a similar international fixture.  Granted that £55 might get you a comfortable and dry seat but the BBC recently calculated that the average price of the cheapest tickets across football in England has risen at almost twice the rate of the cost of living since 2011.

Back in 1981, it is said that all of the top flight English clubs charged on average £51.41 for a season ticket.  In 2016 it was found that each current Premier League club’s cheapest season ticket cost an average of £479.89.

History of the Ticket

The origins of the ticket can be traced back to ancient Greece during the 6th Century BC and the outdoor performances of drama.  These performances evolved from organised religious ceremonies.  Actors appeared using masks and costumes which made it easier for watching audiences to interpret what was occurring and interpret performance themes.

Many ancient performance tickets have been found in Rome during excavation work.   Often round or square and made of ivory or bone these had a picture engraved on one side and an inscription on the other.  The images are varied but often refer to the theatre by name or the occasion or place of performance.  The inscriptions on a ticket would be in letters and numbers and in Latin and Greek and name the play and/or the seating section allocated.

However, the origins of the word ‘ticket’ are said to stem from early 16th century France with the word related to a shortening of obsolete word French étiquet which came from the Old French etiquette or estiquier meaning ‘to fix’.

Although it is impossible to say when a ticket was first used at an organised football match by the 1860’s (when our understanding of football points to the formation of football clubs and organised leagues) the printing press was widely in use and a variety of techniques were being used to transfer ink design from a plate to the printing surface.

Tickets for organised football games have been readily in use since the early years of organised association football.  Supporters were able to buy a ticket for the first ever international football fixture between Scotland and England held in Glasgow during 1872 for the price of One Schilling.

Since these early years of the organised game shifting trends in work, class, industry, leisure and entertainment have resulted in peoples’ disposable income levels varying.  The price of a football ticket has risen as an ever expanding consumer culture has come to dominate society.  It is not too difficult to theorise that the growth of a match attending middle class has led to the expanding ticket pricing strategies we see across the game today.

In its most early use tickets were bought at a ticket window or via a form of counter outside a performance area.  As demand for tickets grew so designated sales points appeared as did resell techniques where people with spares and resellers become known.

With the growth of consumer choice and the need for convenience people were able to obtain tickets locally outside the stadium of from nearby public spaces located near a football park such as a library.  The availability factor has grown through to the modern themes of choice and availability we have today.  Instead of queueing outside a ticket office virtual online queueing can be used by the purchasing party.   This process makes tickets more readily available online as opposed to venturing to a ticket office which adjoin club infrastructures.

Despite huge advances in the materials used for products (for example 2016 has seen the development of the plastic bank note) football match tickets mostly continue to be made of paper or thick card.  These tickets can include personal data, a barcode, club badge and often a magnetic stripe.  This in the modern electronic age is the most important development for clubs for it allows electronic data to be stored and be accessible at electronic entry points.   Such techniques prevent counterfeiting, improve availability and allow clubs to track supporter trends.

Despite the modern availability of ‘print at home’ the paper ticket continues to be a much-sought-after souvenir for supporters just as it was back in the late 19th century.  Retention of the ticket is often allowed thanks to the concept of perforation; namely, the ticket can be separated into two parts.  One (the ticket stub) is kept by the customer and one section is kept by the turnstile controller.

Given the length of time, the match ticket has existed, it would be hard to say what the future holds for its appearance and status as an ‘object’ given the rapidly changing nature of technology. One likelihood is that tickets may become available on a ‘virtual’ basis via a downloadable App that appears on a mobile device just as airline tickets can be accessed by passengers.  Moreover, corporate club partners will surely continue to use tickets for parallel marketing purposes.

Lastly, the concept of ‘personal fan data’ integrated onto the match ticket will increase.  And, while the ticket more often than not comes in its ‘one size fits all occasions’ form, there is every reason to suggest that the football match ticket could become much smaller in size in the years ahead.

There are already those fans who prefer an actual real ticket to the impersonal electronic A4 print at home ticket. Whether smaller tickets will appeal as much to the collector is then very open to question.