The moment Manchester City returned 912 tickets, priced at £62 a pop, for Sunday's trip to Arsenal, the nostalgics become futurologists. There were predictions of a growing fans' backlash. An overdue realignment in the relationship between club and supporter. A line in the sand.
The broader evidence, alas, does not yet back that up. Despite a raging recession, galloping ticket prices and the growing predictability of the Premier League, fans are still flocking to stadiums, buying the merchandise; sucking it up.
The extent of fan – what is the right word? Loyalty? Lust? – for football in the modern era is staggering. Between 1983-84 and 1988-89, as Britain boomed, top-flight attendances averaged under 20,000 for four out of six seasons – yet from 2009 to 2012, with an economy mired in stagnation, average Premier League attendances for each season bobbed gently between 34,215 and 35,363.
These figures seem jumbled up, twisted. They are not. And seat occupancy rates – perhaps a better indicator – have barely changed either: 92.4% in 2009-10, 92.2% in 2010-11 and 92.6% last season. They may even be rising. According to a league spokesman, seat occupancy is 95% for the 2012-13 season.