Manchester United fans will receive only 1,700 tickets for their team’s visit to Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on the last day of the season. Under Premier League rules 3,000 tickets could have been made available for travelling fans but that number has been slashed because of "persistent standing". This is the wrong decision for all fans, not just supporters of the Red Devils. Next time, it could be you…
The news that Manchester United’s ticket allocation has been cut for the trip to the Stadium of Light on the last day of the season (Sunday 13th May) will be a blow to many of the club’s away fans – but not a shock. It’s the third successive year that United have been given a reduced allocation at Sunderland and last season 12 Premier League clubs also cut United’s tickets.
But let’s be clear - this isn’t just a problem at Sunderland or for United’s away support - this is an issue that should matter to fans of all sides. Certain councils and clubs across the UK are reducing away ticket allocations year-after-year because of persistent standing. The very fact they have to do this every season shows the policy is failing. It does not discourage supporters from standing, punishes fans indiscriminately, and creates other problems which are entirely avoidable.
The Daily Telegraph reports that it’s not just fans who are concerned on this occasion quoting “senior figures” at Old Trafford as being “disappointed” with Sunderland’s decision. Speaking to the paper Mark Longden, spokesperson for the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association (IMUSA) and FSF National Council member, said: “This really is a nonsense decision that will lead to United fans buying tickets in the home sections, which many would argue is a greater safety issue. If there is a chance of United winning the league at Sunderland, then thousands will travel without tickets.”
Reds Away editor Dale Haslam has been very active in his opposition to ticket cuts. In 2012 alone his blog has covered ticketing issues at Liverpool, Spurs, Manchester City, Wigan, and Sunderland. Yesterday he made the cross-country trek to the North East to speak to Sunderland City Council’s Regulatory Committee on behalf of Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). He had hoped they might overturn the Council’s decision.
“Sunderland AFC do a risk assessment which the Building Control Department rubber stamps - the Regulatory Committee either accepts or rejects this,” says Haslam. “Yesterday they accepted it so only 1,700 tickets will go to United fans. While we respect the aim of referring the decision, most of the committee members don’t go to games and they know little about fan culture.
“At the meeting, there was no reference to it being the last match of the season and a potential title decider and that, the fewer away-end tickets United get, the more United fans will be in the home end, even though we put this across - in a respectful way - in writing before the meeting.
“I’m extremely concerned about what will happen. We won the title at Wigan in May 2008 and thousands of United fans ended up in the home end. About 1,000 managed to get tickets and another 4,000 were drinking in pubs in the surrounding area and tried to get into the ground to see the presentation. Now I’m not saying that would happen again as there won’t be as many there but it has to be a worry how home fans will react.”
While the FSF does not condone standing in seated areas we are realists. It is happening whether the authorities like it or not and we believe there are far better ways of managing the situation than reducing allocations which results in away fans going in to the home end. Clubs might claim that they will only sell to home fans with a purchase history, or the right post code, but the reality is that some travelling fans will find ways around this.
Many of the problems with fans standing in seated areas – such as supporters standing in access aisles or blocking the view of those who wish to sit – can be tackled if fans are properly consulted. An example of this came in January before United travelled to Anfield for the FA Cup 4th Round. The FSF, IMUSA, MUST, and Liverpool’s Spirit of Shankly (SoS) met with the police, Football Association, and both clubs before the fixture. As a result fans’ groups were able to share important information with their members.
Of course there is another blindingly obvious solution to the problem of fans standing in all-seater stadiums – provide supporters with safe standing areas. Surveys regularly show that between eight and nine out of every 10 fans would like the choice to sit or stand. Fans who prefer to stand would then be able to do so in custom built, properly managed areas, and those who prefer to sit wouldn’t have to worry about someone standing in front of them and blocking their view.
But football at the top-level still ignores these voices and this is where we end up.