Finance behind snub from fans

Martin Whitfield finds supporters in sombre mood at the replay
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By accident or design, Colin Noades, a director of Crystal Palace and brother of the chairman, got his wish yesterday for the club's fans to stay away from last night's FA Cup semi-final replay.

The Palace end at Villa Park was deserted, with fewer than 4,000 fans buying tickets. Car parks were empty and hot dog sellers close to tears. Even the Manchester United supporters seemed subdued. The death of Paul Nixon, a 35-year-old Palace supporter, following a battle between rival fans in a pub car park on Sunday, led to a sombre mood.

Although most of the dedicated Palace fans who turned up favoured a delay in replaying last Sunday's 2-2 draw as a mark of respect, they universally condemned Mr Noades's advice to stay away. "He is a pratt," said Omid Farzand, 18, a student from Sutton, south London. "How can he say that when they are actively selling tickets at the same time?"

Paul Hickman, 19, his colleague, agreed. "It doesn't feel like a big game," he said before the kick-off. "He should have been telling everybody to come. We will be outnumbered and it won't help the team."

The decision by the Football Association to proceed was described as "a bit callous" by Dean Hutchinson, 26. He would have liked the semi-final to have been delayed for at least a week. "When I went to Palace to get my ticket, the fans had made a little shrine. That's when I thought it shouldn't go on. But this is only the third time Palace have done this in their 90-year history. I would have done anything not to miss it," he said.

Most fans believed that the price of tickets, at £30 on Sunday and £18 last night, had been a big factor in the lack of support. Sean O'Connor, 32, a United season ticket-holder from Kent, said the reason so few fans had travelled was financial rather than fear of further trouble, or out of respect. "People wouldn't have had much change of out £100 on Sunday," he said. "They can't afford two games one on top of another."