English soccer set for another fan protest at Arsenal

Fan protests have been the theme of the week in European soccer — and there could be another on the way in the most high-profile game in the English Premier League this weekend.

Against a backdrop of growing anger in England at rising ticket prices, supporters of Arsenal and Leicester could unite in protest at Emirates Stadium to highlight their unhappiness at a decision to move the game back a day — at just three days’ notice — for television coverage. It will be played on Sunday lunchtime instead of Saturday afternoon.

A group of Leicester fans is planning to boycott the first five minutes of the match, citing lost money on travel and accommodation booked before the alteration. And some Arsenal fans are willing to do the same to show unity and make a stand against a perceived mistreatment of fans.

“Match-going fans are treated appallingly, both by clubs (who continually increase ticket prices, despite the huge and growing TV revenues flowing into their coffers); and TV companies (who move kickoff times at short notice and stage games at times that are good for TV viewers but bad for the match-going fan),” Arsenal fans’ group REDaction said in a statement.

On Friday, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger called on fans of both clubs to cancel the planned protests, saying they should take place before or after what is a crucial match in the title race. Leicester, the surprise league leader, holds a five-point cushion over both Tottenham and third-place Arsenal with 13 matches left.

“You want everybody there when the game starts,” Wenger said. “Football is a moment of happiness in your life, so don’t miss it.”

This latest grievance comes days after Liverpool’s American owners apologized to the club’s fans and reversed planned rises in ticket prices, following a walkout by more than 10,000 Liverpool supporters at Anfield near the end of Saturday’s match against Sunderland.

Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters’ Federation in England, called the decision a “game-changer.”

The cost of tickets in English soccer is a hot topic, especially since topflight teams are less reliant than ever on ticket revenue with Premier League clubs about to rake in around 8.3 billion pounds ($12 billion) through new three-year television deals. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed in, calling the escalating cost of watching Premier League games a “problem.”

In Germany, fans of Borussia Dortmund held up a Bundesliga match against Stuttgart on Tuesday by throwing tennis balls onto the field during play. A banner was held up, reading: “Football must be more affordable.”

Arsenal often comes in for criticism for having both the most expensive season ticket and matchday ticket in the Premier League.

“I don’t think we are on the same level ground as foreign clubs,” Wenger said, referring to the Premier League. “For example, Bayern Munich paid one euro for their ground whereas we paid 128 million pounds for our ground.

“In France, they pay nothing at all for their stadiums, they pay nothing at all for their maintenance. We pay absolutely everything ourselves so we have to generate more revenue.”

Liverpool was leading 2-0 at the time of the protest last weekend, and ended up drawing 2-2. Wenger doesn’t see a protest on Sunday affecting his team.

“I wouldn’t like to use that as an excuse,” Wenger said. “I think, once the players are on the pitch, they are focused other job.”