Monday, 12 March 2007

Manchester, so much to answer for

This man is charging £45 to watch John O'Shea - no wonder he's happy

As if Saturday's penalty equaliser wasn't bad enough, Manchester United today added insult to injury with a price structure for tickets for next Monday's replay. One of the richest clubs in the world is intent on fleecing Boro fans. Its policy is little more than a naked attempt to limit the number of fans we take to Old Trafford. United are a club that has recent history of blatant rule-breaking. The spirit of the rules is clearly not a concept that resonates with Ferguson's team.

To put this into context we should consider the treatment meted out to United's substantial travelling support at the Riverside, some of whom came from as far away as Hartlepool. United fans were given the whole of the South Stand (around 5,000 seats) and charged £20 - just like home fans. This was a reasonably priced game and the club. Given reductions in allocations for United in recent years due to the constant standing of their fans, it was a generous deal. As much as the crackdown on standing fans is generally misguided and unfair, there really could be no cause for complaint.

United, a club whose income dwarves Boro's, play in a stadium more than twice the size of the Riverside. Therefore, it would logically follow that Boro would be entitled to at least 10,000 tickets if they so wished. While it is unrealistic to expect that many to travel on a Monday night to a game played at short notice, it seems fair to assume that at similar prices, Boro would probably take at least 3,000 fans. United, however, are effectively trying to cap our following at 1,860. In a bizarre pricing policy, the prices of seats in the away section will change depending on how many have been tickets have already been sold. There is no indication that the more expensive seats are in a different section.

The first 1,860 tickets will be sold for £36, a massive and completely unreasonable hike on Riverside prices. The next 590 tickets will be sold for an astonishing £42, more than double the equivalent ticket from the first game. Inexplicably, the remaining 600 will (theoretically) be sold at £35. Like most fans, I was of the understanding that away clubs in FA Cup ties are entitled to 15% of the ground's capacity if they so wish and must agree prices with the home club. This does not put Boro in a flattering light, despite claims that this bizarre and insulting arrangement was insisted upon by United. If they privately agreed to this situation, then the club are guilty of treating their own fans with utter contempt - not words I ever thought I could use to describe Gibson's Boro. If they were reluctantly pushed into acceptance, then they are at least guilty of being spineless. Few fans would have grumbled about ticket details being delayed if they knew their club were standing up to United's outrageous requests.

As a football fan, I have got used to being treated like shit as a rule. Going to an away game, you are treated as a potential criminal on a regular basis. Ticket prices nationwide are generally nothing short of an absolute piss-take. I desperately wanted to go and support my team in the most important game of our season but I cannot afford those prices. Even if I could afford it, I'm not sure I could stomach handing over such a sum to such an unworthy organisation. Those fans who do go deserve to be commended for their commitment. I would hope they would not criticise those who choose (or are unable) to attend because of United's approach. They are most likely not part-timers nor lacking commitment. They probably feel, as I do, that after being so regularly treated with a contempt that would be unthinkable in any other form of entertainment, that this is just one step too far.

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