LONDON: You do not have to be a forensic accountant to find the figures released this week by Manchester United jaw-dropping. The club accounts from 1969 have been published, and the only way to describe them is 'quaint'.
Back then, United had just stepped down as European champions, yet their total annual turnover was less than their captain earns these days in a fortnight: pounds 569,418 the club banked in '69; Wayne Rooney puts that away in 16 days. Even taking into account inflation, the figures are dwarfed by today's accounts. At 2016 prices, that pounds 569,418 is the equivalent of pounds 8.5 million. Last year United turned over pounds 395.2 million. Which suggests this is a business which has grown 46-fold in 47 years. That is some advance.
It is the details of the accounts that make the most eye-opening reading. It is here that the change in the condition of our national game is most starkly played out. Back in '69, United earned just pounds 1,334 from broadcast fees. To put that into context, they earned 10 times as much from selling the match-day programme as they did from flogging their games to TV. In today's terms, the club picked up just pounds 20,000 from television. In 2015 United earned pounds 107 million from broadcast rights.
Back in 1969, television's relationship with football was so slight and passing, it was barely worth recording the income in the accounts. Yet we are now poised at the frontier of a new, advanced age of television-driven football business which, in the dazzling contrast it will offer, may well make our current period of excess look as old school as those 1969 accounts.
At Anfield, that new order is rapidly taking shape. Liverpool's vast new stand, which must have consumed most of the last remaining output of the British steel industry, grows by the day. At Tottenham too building work is under way for the swanky new White Hart Lane Plans are afoot at Crystal Palace for a new stand, Chelsea will soon be looking for a temporary home as Stamford Bridge is swished up. At Manchester City the cranes have only just been removed after extension works. Everywhere you look in the Premier League there is investment on a huge scale in infrastructure, to ready things for the new era. All this spending is predicated on one thing: the humongous television deal which kicks in from next season. If not quite as significant a change as that between 1969 and 2015, it is still of sufficient scale to alter everything. That 46-fold increase in turnover is about to have another injection of speed. Thanks to TV, within five years, United's turnover will be approaching 100 times what it was in 1969.
But there is one area of the football business that does not seem to have reflected the changing times. Back in 1969 those accounts tell us it cost just 25p to stand on the Stretford End to watch George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton dazzle, the equivalent in today's terms of pounds 3.50. A season ticket then cost pounds 9.50, or pounds 133.
The cheapest seat at Old Trafford from which to watch the current United fail to have a shot on target now costs pounds 31. For those with the masochistic urge to attend games under Louis van Gaal more frequently, the least expensive season ticket is pounds 532. In real terms, the cost of attending a match is now 10 times more expensive.
Yet in 1969 they needed gate receipts far more: pounds 556,878 of the total pounds 569,418 was picked up at the turnstile. In 2015 of United's pounds 395.2 million income, pounds 90.6 million came from ticket sales. From over 95 per cent in 1969, just under a third of the money now comes from the match-going fan. That proportion will only diminish over time.
Yet will the prices fall to acknowledge the declining importance of gate money and the exponential rise in television income? I think we all know the answer to that.