This evening I should have been at Old Trafford to watch my team Manchester City play our local rivals Manchester United in the first leg of the league cup semi-final. I should have been there with my eldest son and it would have been his first ever visit to ‘the swamp’. But I won’t be there. I won’t be there because my club took a decision without a thought for their own fans.
In the league cup, away fans are allocated 10% of the tickets. For a game at Old Trafford, this should have been in the region of 7,500 tickets which is far more than the usual 3k we get for league matches. Manchester United fans should have received about 5,500 tickets for the 2nd leg away at The Etihad.
The two clubs have chosen to restrict away allocations on the basis of ‘safety grounds’ – a spurious reason they seem to have concocted to suit themselves. They didn’t consult with their own supporter groups, came out with their statements and shafted their own fans in the process.
At City, thousands of fans are on the various cup schemes. These guarantee fans tickets for home cup fixtures, provide an advantage if you want to go to away cup matches and a very good chance of a cup final ticket if the team are good enough to make it all the way to Wembley.
But to be honest, you don’t need to be on the cup scheme to secure a ticket to a home cup tie. You can see by the thousands of empty seats that it isn’t a problem getting a ticket. You could easily get a ticket for the league cup final too as they’ll probably end up on general sale (or not much above).
So why bother with the cup scheme at all?
For nights like this.
For when allocations should be so high that fans who wouldn’t normally be able to attend an away derby fixture can get the chance to go. So fathers, like me, can take their children to such games.
That’s why so many thousands join the cup scheme. It’s for nights like this.
And now, the two clubs have taken that away from us. No consultation with fans and without any proper explanation. Quite frankly, it stinks and I am disgusted with my club for going down this route. Safety reasons didn’t prevent us having a Manchester derby at 5.30pm when some fans could have been drinking all day long.
Safety reasons didn’t prevent us from accepting over 7,000 Rotherham fans in the FA cup last season or 8,000 Port Vale fans this season.
Some cynics would say that these games would have been far from sell out and the club were grateful for those extra thousands of fans. After all, they pay for what would otherwise have been empty seats and they are likely to spend some money on food and drink at the ground.
‘Safety reasons’ is an easy cop out and I don’t like it. The least the clubs could have done was to consult with supporter groups and explain the reasons to us fans and the process by which they reached their conclusion to withhold the full away allocations.
I could have gone to this game. I could have got a ticket.
But I wanted to go with my son. I wanted to enjoy the experience with him. Our children are the future of the game, but how can they be when we deny them opportunities such as this?
I stand in solidarity with the 3,500 City fans blocked from attending and the 2,500 United fans blocked from their away leg at our place.
What the clubs have chosen to do is very wrong and is setting a very dangerous precedent.
I understand, and fully accept, that without our wealthy benefactor, my club wouldn’t be in the position we are in today. We wouldn’t have such an array of talented players or the best manager in world football here in Manchester. We, most likely, wouldn’t have had such a wonderful decade watching the best football I’ve ever seen, winning more trophies than I could ever have imagined.
It’s been a splendidly wonderful ride for the club and its fans.
But, I think some of the decisions are made without proper consideration for us local, match-going fans.
When your local fans provide less than 10% of your turnover, you may start to feel a drop in their relevance and importance.
From some of the decisions made in recent years, you begin to feel that the club don’t actually care too much for local, match-going fans. Most of us have supported the club through thick and thin and will continue to do so. But it’s far more lucrative, I would imagine, to sell ticket packages to fans around the country, and all over the world, than it is to sell season tickets.
And, maybe as some season card holders walk away from the club they’ve loved and supported all their lives, that slack will be picked up by those fans of the club willing to pay much more to see a one-off game.
The ‘tourist’ fan.
Right now, it’s a trickle of fans disillusioned by VAR; ticket prices and allocations; the blatant con that is ‘platinum membership’ (which the club are well aware of but happy to keep pocketing an easy £650k each season); the disproportionate allocation of away tickets to hospitality members (as compared to the 40k+ season card holders) and many other ways in which the club appears to be undermining its own local fan base.
This trickle might become something a little more serious. Serious enough for the bigwigs to notice. They may not desperately need our money, but they do need our presence to help make the spectacle what it is, and that’s what attracts the viewing millions to watch around the world. It’s not just the exciting, silky football on show, but the incredible atmosphere created by stadia full of both home and away supporters.
It’s the banter, the needle that fuels the songs and chants and which creates a unique atmosphere that everyone loves.
We, the fans, are the cherry on the cake.
When you remove the cherry, the cake doesn’t look as appealing and you take away that extra something special that makes football in this country the sport we love to watch.
I’ve spoken to dozens of fans who have said they won’t renew their season cards next season and many more who say they won’t be joining the cup schemes.
If the trickle becomes a flood, maybe the administrators will sit up and take notice.
However by then, it may already be too late.