Today, my love affair with my football club, officially, and sadly, ended.
I, and thousands of others have been fighting with Manchester United for several weeks now over their "automatic cup tickets scheme". In short, the club were refusing to release season tickets to fans unless they agreed to purchase a ticket for every home cup game this season.
I received an e-mail today telling me that the club had tried, unsuccessfully, to debit my account with £38 for the home tie against Roma on Tuesday 2 October. The e-mail said:
"In the event of a card or payment being declined: (i) a ticket will not be issued, (ii) where the season ticket holder is a One Year Only Season Ticket holder, such season ticket holder may lose their priority position on any season ticket waiting list, and (iii) the season ticket holder will be liable to pay any resulting bank or other similar charge incurred by the Club. In addition, if a card or payment is declined on two or more occasions (whether during a single season or over the course of more than one season) the Club shall have the right to: (i) terminate the season ticket holder’s participation in the Season Ticket Holders Home Cup Ticket Scheme; (ii) withdraw the season ticket holder’s season ticket with immediate effect and/or; (iii) terminate any other arrangements that the season ticket holder has with the Club."
I called the ticket office today and a young fella answered the phone. I gave him my membership number and when he asked as to the nature of my call I bet him a pound I wouldn't be the first person he had dealt with with my query.
"You don't want to buy a ticket for the Roma game, do you?" he said.
I can't go to the game. And so, unless I pay £38 for a game I can't attend, my season ticket will be withdrawn. And so, I told him that I won't be buying a ticket, and that I'll wait for my refund to come through as I hand my season ticket back.
I don't know how this has happened. I am about the staunchest and most committed football fan I know. I go, I watch, I inwardly digest. I can tell you pretty much every United player for the last 20 years, scores in Cup finals for decades. I can tell you who scored for Berwick Rangers on Saturday and who Macclesfield Town's manager is.
And yet, today, I have had to disassociate myself with a football club who I have loved for longer than I got to love my father. Despite 15 years of pretty loyal attendance, some amazing highs, standing in the p*ssing rain on dark winter away days and home losses to Crystal Palace, Manchester United has been woven into the fabric of my life more than any relationship, job or pet. And today, my loyalty and unwavering support has been cast aside in the pursuit of nothing more than a quick buck.
It's not even the finances, although for thousands of fans I imagine it is. Creeping season ticket prices have been a cause of concern for a few years now, but this is more fundamental. It's the moment you realise that it's ceased to become about the football and that you are merely a way of the business maximising its income. The club doesn't care about its loyal supporters any more and is prepared to trade them in in search of corporate hospitality and casual tourists who are prepared to pay overinflated prices.
Perhaps I should have seen it coming, or people will say that we deserved it. And maybe they are right. But that doesn't mean that I can't be angry and, let's not beat about the bush, really quite upset about the fact I have effectively been dumped by a lover I have had for twenty five years.
And for those fans out there currently basking in the joy of foreign investment and a team full of international players, this is a cautionary tale. Yes, you - fans of Liverpool and Chelsea and Villa and West Ham and Manchester City, it may all seem like great fun now, but wait until your club screws you for every last penny and disenfranchises you too.
And what happens then? Those true fans up and down the country who have walked away from their respective clubs - those who are the soul of the game - are gone. When the bubble bursts who is left? Drunk City traders on a jolly and casual supporters?
It might seem overdramatic, but I can't believe after all this time it's got to this point. And the worst part of it all is that I am sure there are hundreds and thousands like me feeling just the same.