With a trip to Anfield up next, Scott Patterson reports on the unease felt among United supporters over ticketing at the club…
Manchester United’s home support gets its fair share of stick. Roy Keane’s observation of the “prawn sandwich” brigade has become increasingly accurate as the years have gone by, although the same could be said for the atmosphere in most stadiums these days.
Many of the die-hard supporters stopped going in 2005 following the Glazer takeover, while plenty more have been priced out as the seasons have gone by. There are others who could afford a season ticket but have little interest in the sanitised matchday experience that Old Trafford, and modern football in general, has to offer.
Away from home it’s a different story though, with United’s travelling support widely hailed as the best in the Premier League
Away from home it’s a different story though, with United’s travelling support widely hailed as the best in the Premier League. They sell out every allocation and are incredibly vocal whatever the score or performance.
Watching United on the road is a completely different day out to going to Old Trafford. Because the stewards don’t force the away end to be seated, fans can watch the game with their mates – rather than being scattered all over the stadium, separated by businessmen who don’t even support the club, or people who don’t sing, or fans whinging about those who stand.
The only problem is that a ticket in an away end for a United game is like gold dust. Despite the fact that every application has to come from a season ticket holder who has opted to pay for all the home cup games, the number of supporters who get chubbed for every game is in the thousands.
For the upcoming Liverpool game, there were 7,761 applications for 2,763 tickets. You might expect this, given the fierce rivalry between the teams, but there were over 7,000 applications for United’s game away to Hull. The tickets are in huge demand for every fixture.
This is a problem that United supporters have been grumbling about for years, but the story gained more attention last May when they reached the FA Cup final.
With tickets priced at £45, £65, £85 or £115, an extortionate amount charged by the FA, priority was given to season ticket holders who had 10 credits, meaning they had paid for every cup game United had played in that season. After that, those with nine credits, then eight, and so on, would be offered a seat at Wembley.
As it turned out, given the small allocation of just 28,000 from the FA, there were several thousand United supporters with 10 credits who missed out on a ticket. In the second ballot, many of these were lucky, but there were still some that missed out.
Of course, this travesty was the fault of the FA, not the club, although United rubbed salt in the wounds to the travelling fans a month later when revealing their new plans for away tickets.
While officially fans were not supposed to swap away tickets among themselves, this was obviously a practice that had gone on for years. You might not be able to go to one and would help a friend out, and in return, they’d make sure you’d get a ticket to a future away game if you had been unlucky in the ballot.
However, the new enforcement of the old rules from the club meant that these swaps are no longer allowed to continue, with stricter measures in place to stamp this out.
Empty seats or bans
The players have always been given tickets in the away end which they can give to friends and family but now they must fill in forms with the name and address of the people they are giving their tickets to
What if a parent and child had been successful in the ballot and the child was unable to attend? Would a sibling be allowed to take their place? No. If you get a ticket and you can’t go, then you are told to give the ticket back to the club or leave the seat empty. If you go on someone else's ticket and are caught you could find yourself with a three-season ban from all games.
It’s not just the supporters who are under scrutiny but the players too, according to this month’s issue of United We Stand. The players have always been given tickets in the away end which they can give to friends and family but now they must fill in forms with the name and address of the people they are giving their tickets to.
While this move by the club has been incredibly unpopular with the fanbase, there are some sections who aren’t as disappointed. Those who apply for away games every week and rarely, if ever, get a ticket, will be pleased to see a fairer distribution of tickets. With no loyalty scheme in place, other than the exclusive loyalty pot, successful applications are mere luck of the draw. Two different fans could apply for every away game over the course of the season and one of them may get tickets for six games, while the other might get none.
— (@ThatsBash) August 27, 2016
The exception to this is the loyalty pot, which was established in the 2003-04 season and rewards fans who have applied to every game since December 2002, although this only applies to around 790 fans. Around 670 of these fans are successful in every ballot, with 85% of them getting tickets for most games, compared to the 25% of season ticket holders who apply.
To further irritate fans opposed to ticket-swapping, United receive reduced allocations United at many grounds because of the behaviour of the away fans. United employ their own stewards to attend away fixtures to try and stop supporters standing in the aisles, which has seen clubs offer United fewer tickets.
Liverpool are the most recent, who deemed behaviour from last season’s 1-0 United win as a breach of their safety certification, so the allocation has been cut by nearly 200. Still, this is an improvement on the 1,965 tickets United were given at Anfield four years ago.
Having a core group of supporters regularly attending away games – standing in the aisles at the cost of maximum allocation for future fixtures, only to be sorted out by a mate for the next away – is obviously a source of frustration for some fans. It won’t matter to the core group that the allocation is cut as they know they will likely get their hands on a ticket for the next game regardless. Those supporters on the outside, desperate for away tickets, are keen for something to be done.
A fans' forum meeting was held on Friday and rumours on social media claimed that from this point on, all United supporters would have to collect away tickets from the venue with ID. Thankfully, this rumour proved to be false, although United are planning at least one away fixture this season where 1,000 fans will have to do this. Random checks for all games will continue though, where some fans will have to collect tickets with ID, and it is expected the high levels of cancellations for these supporters will continue.
Whichever side of the fence a United fan is on, all can probably agree that this will damage to the quality of the away support. The number of applications for away games has dropped since it was announced the rules would be followed more strictly. The club will continue to fight for their fans to receive full allocations, but this appears to be a problem for which there is no solution that satisfies all.
Safe standing may be the long-term fix, allowing more supporters to fit in to the away end, although this is years away, if it ever happens. By that point, away ends may be sanitised to such extremes that it isn’t worth fighting for anyway.