'Fans are at long last realising that they do have some power in footba ll today'

SPORTS LETTERS : THE GREAT TICKET DEBATE
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From Mr R Officer

Sir: Isn't it ironic that it took low attendances at the FA Cup semi- finals to highlight a problem that has been around for years? This being loyal supporters having to pay inflated ticket prices because the powers that be know they have a captive market and take advantage time and time again.

Fortunately, at the semis, the script did not run quite true to form as in the past. Fans are at long last realising that they do have some power in football today. Supporters organisations such as the Football Suppporters' Association and the growing number of Independent Supporters' Associations are leading the fightback against what can only be termed as an a oppressive regime by football authorities in general as they seek ways to make more revenue out of their most precious possession, the paying public.

Supporters have always been the fall guys in any financial criteria concerning football. Take for instance the treatment fans receive at away fixtures where they are often charged more than home fans for frequently inferior accommodation, where no concessions are made available for away juniors or OAPs. When taking this up with the Football League they say it is the responsibility of the individual clubs to decide pricing policy.

I hope this is a turning point, that more fans will begin to question the right of "the men in suits" to manipulate this great game of ours, often to their own ends. It is about time we were given a much bigger say in the process and future of football.

Yours,

BOB OFFICER

High Wycombe

From H Margolis

Sir: David Aaronovitch (`Empty seats are price of greed', 3 April) is dead right. I, too, am a Spurs season ticket holder and am seriously considering whether to renew next year. For an expensive pounds 512 I have to stand in a crowded, litter-strewn corridor to drink a disgustingly weak, over-priced cup of tea out of a paper cup.

We are asked to get to the ground early but, when we do, there is nowhere to sit down comfortably for an hour for a quiet drink unless we pay more to join an `Executive' or `Centenary' Club. I can no longer get tickets for away matches by post - I have to queue for them.

I would take Alan Sugar's `concern' with a pinch of salt. I recently wrote to him suggesting he left the comfort of The Director's Box and spent some time experiencing match day with the ordinary season-ticket holders. I also suggested he considered reducing seat prices. I got no reply.

Yours,

H MARGOLIS

London

From Mr P Avery

Sir: I am concerned over the "survival of the richest" battle in football, which seems to have intensified in recent years. In terms of the FA's policies on ticket prices, I want to know where the revenue from, say a pounds 38 semi-final, ticket, goes to? How much pays for security, policing etc, but more importantly, what proportion is just clear profit?

The FA must realise that with the strength of television sports coverage, both terrestrial and satellite, fans have a much cheaper chance to see games. However, the television powers that be are in the same race as the FA, with "pay as you watch" matches exclusive to satellite on the horizon. Whether in the ground or in the comfort of their own home, fans are inevitably held to ransom.

This year Manchester United seem to have done nicely from the FA's pricing policy, playing in one Cup semi-final and staging the other. But it's catch 22 for clubs like Bolton, Southampton and Coventry who don't have the grounds or facilities to attract this potential revenue. If you haven't got it, there's less and less chance of getting it these days.

Yours,

PHILIP AVERY

Winchester

From Mr D C Pemberson

Sir: I thought Sky having this contact with the Premier League for the televising of matches would lead to lower admission prices for those attending matches in person. All it has done has made football clubs and the people who run them even greedier. The prices people are expected to pay are extortionate.

In a way, I hope this leads to stadiums with hardly anybody in them and lacking atmosphere. Sky might think it was not worth renewing their Premier League contract and in so doing teach football's administrators a lesson.

Yours,

DAVID C PEMBERSON

Hampshire

From Mr A Marks

Sir: I am an Arsenal supporter whose loyalty stretches to holding a season ticket and taking out a Bond in 1991, not to mention 450-mile round trips to see them play at home. In return my experiences have been as follows:

My season ticket (currently pounds 205) entitles me to admission to all Premier League matches plus the first seven Cup ties at Highbury. If I watch 14 games, I end up paying the same per game as I would have done on a match- by-match basis - beyond that I am paying less. In 1994, when Arsenal played Sampdoria in the Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final, I was charged pounds 7 as the cup-tie allocation had been used, but this price was the season's cost of the ticket divided by 28. I was impressed by the way Arsenal did not use the match's status as an excuse to rip fans off.

As a bond-holder, I am allowed to claim an extra ticket for Cup finals, which enabled my daughter to join me at Wembley for both domestic finals in 1993. I am sent the club magazine for free. The first 1,000 bond-holders were photographed with players, etc, and given a framed certificate, small gestures that show Arsenal try to return our loyalty. The price of the season ticket is pledged to rise by no more than inflation for the rest of the decade.

Once I would travel the shorter distances to see Arsenal's away games in the north and Midlands but the pricing policy of most clubs in these regions now renders that prohibitive. As National Express has a scheme that allows children to go free, it is often cheaper to take my daughter to Highbury than to `local' grounds. Ridiculous!

When I attended the FA Cup semi-final in 1993 at Wembley, I paid pounds 16 and I was not in the cheapest seats. Why have prices doubled in three years?

Buying the bond hurt financially but it was worth it. I have never been made to feel I was being taken for granted. I feel for fans excluded by the rise in prices for individual matches, although Arsenal's are relatively low and are the same for Milan or Manchester United as they are for Wimbledon or Hartlepool. As for visiting other team's grounds as I once did 10 times a season, I feel I am being exploited in most cases and the prices charged remain a deterrent to taking my daughter.

I thought I ought to explain why I am satisfied with my club's performance in this area. Fans of other clubs I have spoken to do not feel the same way, with good reason. It's not just money, it's about feeling valued and appreciated.

Obviously my reward has included watching my team be highly successful in recent seasons but, for most fans, going to football is about much more. It's about feeling part of their club.Having to travel 230 miles to see my boyhood club play means little to me and to the many others who do likewise, because it feels like going home. Will future generations feel the same way? At this rate, I doubt it.

Yours,

ANDREW MARKS

West Yorkshire

From Mr C Burrows

Sir: Those of us at the British Embassy in Athens who take a keen interest in football have been following closely your debate about ticket prices.

In just under two weeks' time, a group of us will be taking our seats in one of the best equipped stadia in Europe, the Olympic stadium in Athens, to watch the second leg of the European Cup semi final between Panathinaikos and Ajax. The cost? About pounds 6.

Yours,

CHRIS BURROWS

Athens

From D Siddell

Sir: May I say, as a Liverpool season ticket holder who refused to pay pounds 30 to watch the match, how pleased I was to see how much of your back page you gave over to the scandal of the FA Cup semi-final ticket prices. I noted the totally inadequate comments of the FA with their typical response after the event. Perhaps one day they will think of the fans before a big match.

The fans have not gained from the huge amounts of money Littlewoods, the BBC and Sky have given to the FA to sponsor and screen these events. Perhaps they might spend some of the money on the supporters by reducing the price of tickets!

They could also involve the supporters' associations in the review of their pricing policy or, more radically, appoint supporters' representatives to their Match and Ground Committee.

Yours,

DAVID SIDDELL

Warrington

From Mr I Wolfe

Sir: I returned from holiday two days before the semi-final to find that I would have to fork out pounds 30 for a ticket. I was able to afford the price, but it is extremely unlikely that I would have attended any replay.

Prices have escalated and little consideration is given to supporters. Last year I paid pounds 40-plus for the Coca-Cola Cup final. It was played at 5pm on a Sunday, which does not strike me as being convenient for the fans who had to travel.

An FA Cup final ticket in 1989 cost me pounds 32 for a seat directly behind a wide stanchion. I was able to see only one half of the pitch at any time and ended up sitting in an aisle so that I could have a decent view.

Scant attention is paid to the wishes of supporters and, although facilities have improved, they still leave much to be desired. The football authorities and clubs appear intent on grabbing as much financial reward as they can muster at the expense of the fans. Action must be taken immediately to ensure the game remains affordable for the average spectator.

Yours faithfully

IAN WOLFE

Liverpool

From Mr P Stephenson

Sir: I'm not one to stand up for the FA but I'd happily give up five dire 0-0 draws at Swansea for one Cup tie like Chelsea v Manchester United. The real outrage is pounds 7.50 to suffer through 90 minutes of relentless mediocrity at the bottom of the Second Division. It makes pounds 38 look like a snip.

Yours,

PAUL STEPHENSON

Swansea

From Mr S Pilkington

Sir: Graham Kelly's defence of FA ticket pricing policy was a masterpiece of illogical reasoning, blatant hypocrisy and smug complacency which every soccer fan will dismiss with contempt.

However, the most nauseating part was his pious little homily at the end: "We care about the fans because overwhelmingly we and our families are fans." If this is the case, how much do you and your cohorts from the FA have to pay for tickets when you attend a big match with your families, Mr Kelly?

Yours sincerely

STEVE PILKINGTON

Stockport

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