FA to review ticket policy but not prices

FOOTBALL: Governing body may offer more seats at lower prices as concern grows about empty spaces at FA Cup semi-finals
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The Independent Online

The Football Association, stunned by the sight of thousands of empty seats at its two FA Cup semi-finals on Sunday, last night promised to review the structure and spread of the cost of tickets - but prices will not be cut.

Liverpool's victory over Aston Villa at Old Trafford was watched by 39,072 spectators, 11,000 less than capacity. At Villa Park, where Manchester United overcame Chelsea, the attendance of 38,421 meant that around a thousand tickets went unsold. Ticket prices were the same as in the past two years - pounds 14, pounds 22, pounds 30 and pounds 38, with no concessions for children - but only a small minority of seats were available at the two lower amounts. At Manchester, for example, all but 2,004 seats per club were pounds 30 or more.

The FA's response to criticism of ticket prices for matches under its aegis was to suggest that it was not unhappy with the cost of tickets. "We have no plans to review our prices," an FA spokesman, Steve Double, said. "However, our ticket structure may need to be addressed. It seems we have too many seats in the top band and not enough cheap seats. I can understand Villa supporters staying away as they had been at Wembley the week before. Liverpool fans obviously didn't want to pay those prices, even though all the seats at Old Trafford afford good views."

Ticket prices for games under the aegis of the FA are set by its 14-man Match and Grounds Committee, headed by the Birmingham City chairman Jack Wiseman. Ken Bates (Chelsea), Doug Hammond (Swansea), Reg Burr (Millwall) and Barry Taylor (Barnsley) are the only other club chairmen, present and past, to sit on the committee.

Popular disquiet over the FA's pricing policy surfaced at the same stage last season, when Manchester United and Crystal Palace supporters were faced with the cost of attending a replay in Birmingham three days after the original semi-final was drawn there. Only 17,987 watched the match, the lowest turn-out for a semi-final in more than half a century.

The complaints were rednewed last week when England's Wembley friendly against Bulgaria, billed as a warm-up for the European Championship finals this summer, attracted a gate of less than 30,000.

For that fixture, ticket prices ranged from pounds 13 up to pounds 45. Half-price concessions for children were restricted to the 9,773-capacity family enclosure, where adult seats were pounds 16 and pounds 20. Situated in the bottom tier of the stand which houses the Royal Box, the family section offers a less than perfect view.

Ticket arrangements for the FA Cup final, on 11 May, were announced yesterday. The cheapest will be pounds 17, with others at pounds 16, pounds 25, pounds 30, pounds 35, pounds 40, pounds 45 and pounds 60. Places in the Olympic gallery will cost pounds 100 and pounds 115. Both clubs are to receive 25,500 tickets, in contrast with the Coca-Cola Cup finalists' allocation of 32,000 each.

"It's a good spread of prices to suit all fans," Double said. "We don't anticipate any empty seats at that game."

In contrast with its English counterpart, the Scottish FA is anticipating a full house of 38,000 at both its Tennents Cup semi-finals. Tickets for both games, which will be played on successive days next weekend, are priced at just pounds 13 and pounds 14.

Meanwhile, several clubs in the Endsleigh League are monitoring the initiative of Huddersfield Town and Blackpool in giving free season tickets to children under 11. "A lot of clubs are watching closely to see how it works," the League spokesman, Chris Hull, said yesterday. "Apart from that, our clubs are running quid-a-kid initiatives all over the country, with children paying only pounds 1 to get into a specified area. The younger fans are the lifeblood of the future - the next generation of season- ticket holders."

The FA Match and Ground Committee

J Wiseman, chairman, (Birmingham City); T Annable (Nottinghamshire FA); K Bates (Chelsea); B Bright (Kent FA); A Burbridge (Cheshire FA); R Burr (Millwall); D Hammond (Swansea); D Insole (Cambridge University); A Odell (Middlesex FA); T Powell (Herefordshire FA); P Rushton (Worcestershire FA); J Ryder (Cornwall FA); B Taylor (Barnsley); G Thompson (Sheffield & Hallamshire FA).