Admission of guilt

The significance of fan loyalty is called into question as FA Cup tickets go to the highest bidder

We would like to apologize for an omission from last month’s ‘wish list’ editorial. We failed to require Graham and Sir Bert to pay to get into a Cup Semi-Final – though obviously Sir Bert would have to go on a ‘Decimalisation Made Easy’ course before setting out for Old Trafford or Villa Park.

Incredibly, the FA first suggested that an inquiry was needed to determine what went wrong, as if there was any mystery about it, then offered the excuse that it wasn’t the ticket categories that were wrong but rather there were too many seats with good views that somehow required higher prices. As the Independent pointed out, by this logic, what was needed was for someone to erect some temporary poles and sheets around the ground so as to increase the number of restricted view seats. Let’s just hope that hasn’t planted a germ of an idea in someone’s head at Lancaster Gate.

Tickets of various kinds have been in the news lately. There was Channel 4’s excellent ticket touting programme, part of the Undercover Britain series. Manchester United’s attitude when confronted with evidence of a block of forty-four tickets in the hands of a tout for a single game – wheel out the club solicitor for a hostile ‘no comment’ – was depressingly predictable.

It helped put some flesh on the bare bones of the announcement of those people banned from receiving Cup Final tickets because their 1995 allocation wound up with touts. In light of the Channel Four’s investigation, it is perhaps unsurprising that 11 of the 30 blacklisted were from Manchester United, though the club did act against them. However, these were all individuals, as opposed to insiders. With Bobby Charlton amongst those in previous receipt of a ban, it is at least possible that the reason United were so hostile to the reporter was that they were worried about whose names might be on the purloined tickets.

It is a racing certainty that a similar list will be published in a year’s time, with this year’s FA Cup Final perhaps the most mouth-watering for the touts since the Liverpool v Everton clashes of the 80s – and they were all contested in a Wembley with a substantially greater capacity. By refusing to accept the dossier of evidence from Channel Four, and taking action against those guilty of passing on tickets for ordinary matches at Old Trafford, United are in all probability aiding and abetting those who will be misusing their right to a Cup Final ticket for personal gain.

With touting now a criminal offence, that is surely no way for any club to behave, especially as the club themselves have profiteered on European games, using security as the excuse to only sell tickets to those travelling on the club’s own trip. Yet they seem unconcerned by the security implications of touts selling tickets regularly to anyone with enough cash.

The FA, of course, must bear some responsibility for the Cup Final situation. The smaller the allocations to the participating clubs, the greater the market for the touts. This year, that will include substantial numbers of season-ticket holders for both clubs. Rightly or wrongly, the FA are not going to alter their policy of making a substantial allocation to the game’s great and good. Perhaps, though, when handing out punishments, the FA could consider reducing the overall total of tickets to these bodies by the number that are misused, transferring this allocation to the participating clubs. Also, if a particular number of, say, a County’s FA allocation is sold to touts, then it should be reduced by that figure, preferably for ever, but for at least as long as the ban on the individual responsible.

These would be a small gestures, but in the first case would be recognition that the justification for the current system only stands up if the tickets are used by the intended recipient, and the second would substantially increase the peer pressure not to pass tickets on. One WSC reader saw a pair of tickets allocated to an Oxfordshire non-League team in 1994 offered for sale to the highest bidder on the club noticeboard. No organization which so blatantly condones touting deserves to receive tickets again. Yet what real difference is there between a non-League side turning a blind eye to touting and a Premiership club doing the same? 

From WSC 111 May 1996. What was happening this month