Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bryan Robson for Manchester Utd (v Brighton and Hove Albion), 25 May 1983

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 And so, unless I pay £38 for a game I can't attend, my season ticket will be withdrawn.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.


Mosher said...

I know it's so easy to take the pee about ManU supporters, but (with the exception of mackems) I've always agreed with friendly rivalry. You have got a ton of sympathy from me. The situation is disgusting and you're right - the game has already left the hands and pockets of the working classes who supported it for decades.

The average Joe can barely afford the regular ticket prices. But to throw away UK38 on a ticket for a match you can't attend as a "tax" for retaining a season ticket is complete lunacy. And thus it shifts the game further toward the money-stuffed rich kids who want to go for a few games to "say they've been". The same muppets who soak up all the London to Newcastle tickets at UK10 a pop a month in advance and don't use them as it's cheaper than buying one on the day they need it.

And you're also right - it it is worrying for other clubs. Unless ManUre find themselves short of fans after a while as Family Average fail to attend and Mr Rich and his buddies get bored and move on to something else.

Enjoy popping to the pub to watch the games. At least every ManU one is on there so you won't miss anything. Apart from the atmosphere and the sense of loyalty that's been ripped from you by greedy Americans.

swisslet said...

Check out that whole stand at the Emirates stadium that remains empty for the first 10 minutes of the second half as all the corporates finish off their executive snacks before going back to the game. It's the future.

Football clubs don't deserve the fans they have.... but more importantly, those fans often deserve much better.

You have my sympathy.


Anonymous said...

Re Mosher's comment that 'the game has already left the hands and pockets of the working classes who supported it for decades' - absolutely - that is, at the highest level of the game.

Since my teens, I've found it hard to commit to any 'big team' (as a child I thought I was a Sunderland fan). Nowadays, I most admire those unfashionable clubs whose success leads to broader social/economic improvements in their communities. I suppose it's a bit like no logo football - the idea of which, in contemporary culture, is near ridiculous.

For me, the lifeblood of football really is at grassroots level - those teams to whom a crowd of 1000 would be a big crowd. A case in point: last weekend, I enjoyed a football match more than any other that I'd been to in the past 3 or 4 years, easily. That match: the FA Cup preliminary qualifier, Spennymoor United 3 - 2 Garforth Town, attendance 227. Cost of entry: £4.

It is bad when cases such as those that LB mentions grow out of clubs' intransigence, but if fans (en masse) persist with their protests and do not concur with the ticketing scheme, then I wonder whether some accommodation will come from the club. With growing bad PR, would further pressure then come - perhaps ironically - from the corporate backers or sponsors of the club?

For me, this comment was a mix of old skool preaching and reminiscence therapy. Thank you, and apologies.

Unknown said...

That policy is a disgrace. Hope it gets exposed in the national press.

LB said...

Mosher - thanks. I wrote this piece in the knowledge that I might get the odd "serves you right/United scum" type response, but your support as a non-Red is really very kind.

And your point about atmosphere is interesting - I bet there's a better atmosphere in my local boozer for a United game than at the ground, seeing as how it's now full of suits and tourists....

ST - ta. I am, in a strange way, numb with the shock of what's happened (my missus thinks I am "grieving"!)

Shane - Having thought about this, I reckon the beauty of grass roots football is becuase it is played by people with a true love of the game. It's not played for the lifestly, the money, the trappings, it's played by people who just want to play a decent game of football. Best game I have been to in the last few years: FC United's opening fixture. £6 entry, pie chips and peas for £1.40, and we stood up. Seven goals.

BeeSee0 - it's had some coverage on the BBC website and on local news, but I think it's a non-story these days. The days of fan power are long gone.

Paul said...

Sorry to hear about it LB.

If anything, I think the only surprise in all this is that it has taken this long for a club like Man Utd to milk their most long serving fans dry. The idea of paying a 38 quid loyalty tax is offensive, and I applaud your approach.

There's a letter in the new 4-4-2 which talks about the importance of fans to smaller clubs, and the difference an extra few bums on seats means to their finances. As such, can I suggest that after a suitable period of mourning, should you need a live football fix, there are any number of clubs in the nottingham area who would welcome you with open arms.

I suspect that when the current TV deal expires, Man Utd won't be the only club wondering where their crowds have gone...

Ben said...

In the words of the League of Gentlemen's Les McQueen, it's a shit business. No, it's an unbelievably shitty business. How the hell have they got away with this?

Have you and others tried petitioning MPs local to Old Trafford?

Keving said...

It's the way it's going, Celtic have a DD home cup scheme as well which was used last season to allocate cup final tickets i.e if you were on it you got tickets.

we are one step away from the same thing...

Unknown said...

Keving posted a link to your article and jeez you have my sympathy.

Kevin's right we'll get this next as well.

Sad to say it's the way all EPL clubs (plus us and Rangers) are going. 5 Live reported last night that every EPL Club could afford to open their grounds for free one weekend, and the EPL Clubs would still have lots more money in the bank than they were given last season.

Also stated that most EPL Clubs had raised their season ticket prices way beyond inflation. Think the Boro and Blackburn were the exceptions. All this money in the game and the majority of it in the summer goes out of England on transfers!! Something is not right there.

All the best with your clubs for the season

swisslet said...

you fancy watching any Notts County this year then? Or if you really fancy slumming it, what about Forest?

Mosher said...

Shane, yeah you're right - I was thinking of the "upper echelons". I'm a Newcastle fan, I don't have a choice in the matter any more and I will keep on following the club, no matter what - just as our host here I'm sure will remain a red (poor bastard! hehe) regardless of whether he has the season ticket or not.

However, you're also utterly correct that the lower league games are great fun and dirt cheap. I used to go out with a Colchester United supporter *shudder* and sew them play Oldham and Blackpool. Entry a couple of quid and some decent crowds in the terraces.

The thing is, though, I still didn't get the buzz I do from watching the Toon play. No matter how good the match was, I didn't feel *involved* as I didn't care who won.

Anonymous said...

As a West Ham fan I read this with an impending sense of doom. Yes at the moment Eggy is everyone's favourite son/brother/grandad at Upton Park, but I can see the time coming when his backers want a big-time return ontheir investment, and we know who'll pay. The loyal, hardworking, scrimping & saving fan. Football these days makes me sick sometimes. You guys have my sympathy. There but for the grace of God...

Anonymous said...

Its very sad and I hear the Glazers ma be looking to sell their investment.

All i can say mate is follow the Gooners. We are having a great year, with a great manager and team.

Poor old Glazers cant afford you

LB said...

Paul - thanks. I have to say that despite ST's suggestion, I agree with Mosher. Yes, I could go and watch Notts County, or Burton Albion, or Hucknall Town every week, but I am not sure I could find myself getting that excited about it. Whilst I enjoy watching any "live" football, you can't just switch your allegiance in that way.

Ben - yes, I have done that. She's Minister of the Family (or some such nonsense) so I don't expect a reply any time soon...

Keving/Baldymeister - thanks for your support. Your scheme at Celtic sounds like the thin end of the wedge. And there's another great example of a fan-based club losing it's grip on reality.

SteveJ - thanks for your support. These foreign guys are not in it for the love of the game, they're in it to make a buck. And whether that means making you buy club shirts, credit cards or additonal tickets, they'll find any way they can of milking you for every penny.

Anonymous - yes, they have a great manager and team. I did believe though that Arsenal were almost as cuplable as United for this type of behaviour?