THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The new Wembley may be bigger, better and more beautiful, but supporters will still struggle to see their clubs' play

The punishments handed down to Leicester City players and officials over the sale of their 1999 Worthington Cup final tickets seem a bit random. Andy Impey received a five-year ticket ban and was fined £20,000 for selling ten tickets to Tottenham fans, while Tony Cottee got a three-year ban and a £12,500 fine, even though 35 of his tickets got into the hands of Spurs supporters.

The difference was that one of the recipients of Impey’s tickets was caught on camera assaulting a Leicester fan at the game. All those charged are to appeal against their fines, which their lawyer described as “draconian”.

Nevertheless, it’s good to see the FA conducting a thorough investigation into the affair and taking the outcome seriously. Now if only they would turn their attention to those most responsible for the touting problem, namely themselves.

The FA have decided that the 90,000 capacity new Wembley will include 7,000 “club” seats which will be available for rent on an annual basis. For a fee of £2,000 the seatholders will gain access for one year to all matches played at the stadium. Needless to add, several thousand more seats are set aside for sponsors, executive box patrons and corporate freeloaders.

The reserved club seats, which will bring in around £1.4 million annually for the FA, will provide entry to approximately 20 matches a season, including cup finals, play-offs and England games. No doubt club card holders will be there in force for FA Cup finals and England’s goalless draws, but you can bet that they’ll find more pressing business engagements when it comes to games that would appeal to committed fans like Auto Windscreens finals or Third Division play-offs.

An FA spokesman has claimed that it will not be possible for club cards to reach touts but won’t elaborate on how this will be achieved. It could be that the new venue of legends will become as notorious for scenes of stewards and police separating rival groups of fans as its predecessor did for its poor spectating views and mediaeval toilets. Supporters groups have already reacted angrily to the FA’s plans.

No doubt their fears will be put to rest by recent comments from someone who is actually in a position to do something about it. As a member of the Premier League’s management committee and the chairman of Wembley National Stadium Ltd, the FA’s subsidiary company that owns Wembley, few people are better placed than Ken Bates to put their idealistic ideas on ticket distribution into practice.

Bates, writing in his thunderous column in the People (“he talks, you listen”) is adamant that the two FA Cup finalists should get more tickets. And so they should, obviously. However, he is also righteous in his indignation over the number of VIPs going to the game (especially, it seems, since the election of the Labour government). Never mind, he reassures us, “in the new Wembley we will have an additional 15,000 seats”.

He also urges “a concerted drive to smash the scandal of black market hospitality packages”. On these junkets, he alleges, “inflated prices are charged for an indifferent meal, a walk through the crowds to a poor seat, with the added pain of a nonentity from yesteryear pontificating on the game to come.”

This nightmare experience is clearly completely different to the quality packages Chelsea themselves offered for the 1997 Cup final, apparently in contravention of FA rules, in which punters were asked to pay £495 (plus VAT) for a champagne reception at Stamford Bridge, lunch with “celebrity speakers” (though members of the 1970 Cup-winning side are obviously not nonentities) and coach travel to Wembley. Oh, and a ticket of course.

“At the moment football is either champagne or Bovril,” said a spokesman for WNSL after the new seating arrangements were announced. “We aim to provide a range of facilities in the new stadium.” To make money it is inevitable that the FA will pitch Wembley tickets at the champagne end of the market, as Bates has done so consistently at Chelsea.

What is disappointing is that the FA, by roping off large areas of the stadium for only mildly interested customers, is not only sticking two fingers up at the “Bovril” punters, but also encouraging the opportunities to which the Leicester players appear to have proved so susceptible. New Wembley may look a whole lot nicer, but it sounds like there will be nothing new about the contortions necessary to get a ticket.

From WSC 159 May 2000. What was happening this month

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