Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Jon Stead for Sheffield United (v Wigan Athletic), 13 May 2007

I know you shouldn't laugh, but this is the funniest football story I've read for a while.

Ex-Sheffield United manager Colin Wanker has claimed in his new book that Hollywood legend Sean Bean made his family cry with a swear-filled rant.

Apparently, after the Blades were relegated last season, Alec Trevelyan off of Goldeneye made his way to Warnock's office and confronted Mrs Wanker and their five year old son. "It's your f*cking husband that got us relegated. He's a f*cking w*nker" yelled the eldest son of Denethor II, Steward of Gondor and Minas Tirith.

Warnock claimed he "never really rated his opinion on football". Takes one to know one, I suppose.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Landon Donovan for LA Galaxy (v Chivas de Guadalajara), 29 July 2007

On the basis that I saw three Beckham LA Galaxy shirts at the second test today, do you think their marketing and merchandising policy might already be in full effect....?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Patrice Evra (for Manchester United) v FC Seoul, 20 July 2007

Taking up the excellent point made by United 113 in the last comments, I have today received an update from the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) about the ongoing fight with the club over their controversial "Automatic Cup Ticket Scheme" (ACS).

United are clearly having difficulties because of the number of Season Ticket (ST) holders who have not renewed or who refuse to join the ACS. Numbers are hard to confirm, but we have it on good authority that over 6,000 ST holders have not renewed (and that more will give up their ST by refusing to join the ACS before the deadline imposed by the club). We don't doubt that there will shortly be an announcement of record sales and that all STs have sold out but the fact is that anyone can ring up the ticket office today (we've checked) and buy a Season Ticket while United have been claiming they have a huge waiting list.

Having claimed to have a waiting list of around 13-14,000 - in itself a 'stick' with which to threaten ST holders that if they didn't renew, others would be clambering over them to take up their ticket – we are now seeing the reality. The fabled waiting list a phantom one. United has already resorted to offering ST to all-comers on its website and even giving away free tickets in draws. As soon as supporters realise that there is not a huge excess demand for STs, and that it becomes easier to obtain matchday tickets, the whole carefully-nurtured edifice of exclusivity and unattainability comes crashing down. If that happens it should be welcomed by all supporters as it will bring some balance back to the currently exploitative power relationship between the owners of the club and its supporters."

United have now set a deadline of 27th July for ST holders to join the scheme otherwise their ST will be invalidated/cancelled. Interestingly, this is before the date of 2nd August when the club have to respond to the court claim made against them by disillusioned ST holder John Mayall.

What to do? Under the terms and conditions, the club reserve the right to charge for my season ticket, cancel it and refuse to refund me my £722 if I fail to join the ACS before the deadline. The more likely route is for them to cancel it on 28th July and refund me my money. Clearly I'd rather not do that, and so my remaining option is to sign up for this ridiculous scheme and continue to lobby with the thousands of other fans to get this decision overturned.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Darren Fletcher for Manchester United (v Urawa Red Diamonds), 17 July 2007

So, following my letter to David Gill about this greedy nonsense I have had two responses. Both have succeeded in making me more angry than before.

Karl Evans is Director of Venue (what that means, Jesus only knows). He assures me that "...we do take a great deal of time and put a great deal of thought into our pricing policies". That made me feel much better, knowing that a double figure hike in ticket prices had at least been carefully considered. He then claims that "the club still offers a cheaper priced ticket than most in the league". I've been keeping an eye on this claim for a while, and it is nothing more than a clever bit of spin by United. A few years back, the general ticket prices were cheap in relation to other top flight clubs. Today, as Karl says, "...admittedly [the club] is in the upper section on higher price tickets". What this means is that the general cost of admission is significantly higher in relation to other clubs that it has been in recent seasons, but United maintain a small amount of low priced tickets (you ought to see how far back/high up you'd be in these seats, incidentally) in order that they can claim the nice PR of having low priced tickets.


"With regard to the automatic cup ticket scheme, the club decided to make this compulsory to increase operational efficiency."

What a load of old cobblers. Not only is this a *completely* different answer to the one provided by David Gill in the other letter I received (see later) but it's also some absolutely groundless management speak. "Operational efficiency" = United make more money.

"In the case where tickets are not required there is always the possibility of utilising the Viagogo ticket exchange system..." I like the use of the word "possibility", there. He also ignores the fact that the Viagogo exchange system adds 20-25% to the face value of the ticket (with the charges involved).

And then we come to the letter from David Gill's office which is as rude as it is abrupt.

"Making the cup scheme compulsory affects around a quarter of the 57,000 Season Ticket holders." (a good argument to start with. The Government should try passing laws that make 25% of the populations life worse under that rationale). "By not including the Cup games in a higher priced season ticket..." (is making cup tickets compulsory not exactly the same thing?) "...the Club has rejected the policy of many other clubs who insist on payment at the start of the season for cup matches that may not happen."

Anyone else know of a club that includes cup matches in a higher priced season ticket that they buy up-front? Please tell me, as I'd love to know.

"This was a business decision made by the Board of Directors and unfortunately there can be no exceptions".


So, let me recap. It only affects 14,000 people (coincidentally, this is the same number as United have claimed are on their waiting list for season tickets. If we all therefore sent them back they'd exactly replace us with the waiting list.) It is for reasons of "operational efficiency" (the club sell all their seats up front). There is an admittance the tickets are expensive in relative terms.

My favourite part of the responses however is this:

"....admittedly [the club] is in the upper section on higher price tickets but considering the quality of the entertainment I think this is reasonable to expect."

How dangerous is it to link the cost of the tickets to the "quality of the entertainment"? So, does that mean we can claim a refund for a dour 0-0 draw? If we finish 8th in successive seasons the cost of tickets is going to fall? If we lose a game do we get a full refund?

I have seen nothing in either of these replies that softens my stance on this - indeed I am less convinced now than I was before. The fight continues....

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Wayne Rooney for Manchester United (v AC MIlan), 24 April 2007

You may have seen snippets of this story over the last few weeks.

Manchester United have implemented a new ticketing policy which makes it compulsory for season ticket holders to join the club's "automatic cup ticket scheme". This means that season tickets for the forthcoming 2007/8 season won't be released by the club to supporters until they agree to sign-up for the scheme. What the scheme does is automatically debit your credit or debit card with the payment and issue any home cup tickets during the season (Carling Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League).

So, despite a 14% hike in season ticket prices (compared with those clubs who under the new TV deal have reduced or frozen prices), United fans are now forced to shell out up to an additional £380 a season. (Interestingly, the news of the season ticket price increase was released the morning after United had beaten AC Milan 3-2 in the Champions League semi-final. Some Blairite tactics if ever I've seen them.)

The clubs defence of this policy is unsurprisingly arrogant. They argue that there is a waiting list of 14,000 for season tickets (which to me reads "take it or leave it".) They also argue that unwanted tickets can be sold on the Manchester United Ticket Exchange (true, but the fees payable for selling through the exchange add 20-25% to the face value of the ticket).

I wrote to David Gill just under a fortnight ago complaining about this ludicrous policy as often, due to work commitments I can't attend midweek fixtures. I also consider that the price of my season ticket rising from £475 in 2005/6 to £722 in 2007/8 is a steep enough increase without the additional cost of cup tickets (knockout stage Champions League tickets for example are more expensive than an equivalent league game). As yet, I have had no response.

Yesterday, I read that with the support of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) a supporter is taking the club to court over this policy. I am absolutely delighted that this is the case and I immediately emailed Nick Towle, chairman of MUST to offer my support. I understand from his response today that a class action is expensive although he expects further individual court cases to follow. He has added my name to a growing list of over 100 supporters who are prepared to challenge this policy in the courts.

United know full well that they have their loyal support over a barrel. If anyone fails to renew their season ticket in disgust at their increasing greed and arrogance, there are 14,000 waiting to take it off them. If I knew that I could send my season ticket back and tell them to stick it and then at some point in the future decide to renew, I'd do it. But I can't. So I am either be forced to accept whatever daft, unfair policy they introduce at any given moment, or kiss goodbye to watching them again for good.

I'm not surprised that long-time fans across the Premiership are turning their backs on their teams in favour of returning to grass-roots lower league football where you're treated like a supporter and not like a revenue stream. United might generate a stadium full of rich glory hunters now, but when the bubble bursts it's us they'll expect to fall back on...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ariel Ortega for River Plate (v Quilmes), 18 March 2007

It's the 18th March in the Clausira title race. As the clash between Quilmes and River Plate meanders towards a 0-0 draw, a right wing cross is played into the Quilmes area. Expecting a challenge from the goalkeeper, Ariel Ortega closes his eyes and launches himself towards the ball. He misses the header but the ball deflects off his hand into the back of the Quilmes net.

Referee Daniel Giminez awards a goal and River win the game 1-0. "I saw the hand of Ortega, but a referee must judge intention and in this case, it was clear that he tried to head the ball and then it accidentally bounced off his hand. If it happens somewhere else on the pitch it's not considered handball, so why should it be in the area?"

This has caused some debate, even within FIFA. Michel Vautrot from their Referee Committee argued "A goal can never be scored with the hand. Intention is not relevant in that case." However, Jose Maria Garcia Aranda, director of FIFAs Department of Referees argued "A referee always decides if the hand has been intentional. And if he considers it was not, the goal is valid."

Intuitively, one's initial reaction is that a goal scored with the hand should be chalked off no matter what. However the notion of intent, and the fact that an unintentional handball in the penalty box by a defender should go unpunished does raise some doubt. What's your view?

(credit to June 2007's "Four Four Two" for the piece.)