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A king’s ransom at King’s Lynn Town

A king’s ransom at King’s Lynn Town

You can buy a season ticket cheaper at Premier League side Burnley than at fifth tier King’s Lynn Town. So why has The Linnets’ chairman Stephen Cleeve set such high prices, and will the gamble pay off?


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today… the controversial season ticket prices at non-league King’s Lynn Town.

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In a division filled with former Football League clubs, King’s Lynn Town could be described as the minnows of the National League. 

After the former incarnation of the club was wound up in 2009, the current version of King’s Lynn was established 12 months later. Ten years later in 2019/20, Covid forced a premature end to the National League North season and King’s Lynn were handed automatic promotion.

However, what’s really puzzling is that – in a league with far bigger clubs like Notts County, Wrexham and Stockport County – King’s Lynn Town have the most expensive seats in the league. £380 per adult. 

Even more shocking was the fact the concessionary price was only £40 less than the adult price and children had to pay a whopping £180 to watch their team this season.

“The key though is… if you’re sitting down in a seat… and this is a big problem. We are, some of the games, we are, and especially with Covid, we are going to sell out in the stands. And without… without being rude, when your bum is on a seat, we need to ensure we are getting paid a reasonable amount for that. And so even at £9 to sit down… it’s… you know, we could probably sell that same seat for £19 or £20. And I know we should have a small family section like lots of other clubs and once that’s sold out it’s just normal prices. But that’s difficult to do and difficult to organise and it’s just another issue that we’ve got to deal with, so we’ve decided against doing that this season, so we’re allowing all the seats, you’re not going to be restricted apart from the gold seats where you’ll have to pay £25 to sit in them..but you can sit in the blue seats for the £9.”

Stephen Cleeve, ‘I Bought A Football Club’ podcast

To put this into context, many clubs in the National League offer children’s season tickets for free and Wrexham only charge £11, Notts County £25, and Stockport County £50 for the equivalent ticket.

And it’s not just the bigger clubs that offer the discount either. An adult season ticket at Eastleigh costs £180…the same as a child’s season ticket at King’s Lynn. 

You can watch Premier League football at Burnley for £319 for the season. 

At the centre of the King’s Lynn decision making process is Chairman Stephen Cleeve. He’s an interesting character to say the least. He has a podcast, of sorts, called “I Bought A Football Club.” 

“So, welcome to episode 18 of ‘I Bought A Football Club’. My name’s Stephen Cleeve, I’m the Chairman of King’s Lynn Town, and er…this is the podcast that goes behind the running of a football club. Today, I, first of all I have to apologise and explain what’s gone on cos last week I told you I had two, I’m just looking for something, two podcasts lined up and I’m just err stretching over the back here to pick up a book and I can explain what happened. I had two podcasts lined up for you erm and you got neither and I need to explain what happened.”

Stephen Cleeve, ‘I Bought A Football Club’ podcast

A 2010 article in the Mail on Sunday described what they called his ‘shady’ past while he was running as a UKIP candidate. They noted that Cleeve was handed an eight-year ban from being a company director in 2000. They exposed his previous unsatisfactory business dealings with whiskey, champagne and land. 

According to BBC South’s Inside Out programme, the land scheme he was involved with saw investors pay over the odds for sites that had “little to no” potential to obtain any planning permission. Plus, the Australian Herald and Star said he’d been in trouble for similar land schemes during a short spell over there.

In 2011, the businessman tried and failed to bid for ownership of Wrexham FC and there was understandable concern from King’s Lynn fans when he successfully bought their club in 2016.

“I think King’s Lynn is a sleeping giant. It’s got a lot of potential. It’s got three or four hundred more people that can come in through the gate, without too much difficulty. And I think the club has got, you know, I think it should be playing league football. And, it’s not going to be easy to get there but, you’ve got to have a plan and you’ve got to have an ambition, you’ve got to have an ambition, you’ve got to have a plan, you know? And that’s what we’d like to do!”

“It always involves money, are you a man with deep pockets?”

“Well, erm not as deep as Masters, probably! But I’m going to try, I’m going to try and bring some extra commercial avenues into the club.”

Stephen Cleeve, speaking to members of the press

Now, everyone deserves a second chance, and according to his introductory press conference, Cleeve says that there’s “no question he’s made mistakes in the past.” 

But we need to unpick exactly why the King’s Lynn Town tickets are so expensive.

Cleeve explained his reasons for price increases last season on two separate episodes of his podcast, taking over an hour to detail the numerous reasons. There have been no new episodes published since April 1st this year.

It seems that if this was a normal arrangement, there would be no need to explain the decision to supporters at considerable length. 

On their social media message boards, King’s Lynn fans have questioned why not attract more paying customers by reducing their prices? That would see them at least earn the same amount and crucially increase their supporter base for the future. 

After all, they have a large catchment area, sitting at least an hour’s drive away from three established clubs in Peterborough United, Premier League Norwich City, and Cambridge United. 

It seems that Stephen Cleeve has his own, unique way of doing things, and only time will tell whether that will pay off for King’s Lynn. For now their supporters are bearing the brunt of the extra costs that having “bought a football club” brings.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Klong.