Manchester City's ticket allocation for the FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United may be reduced by 900 after that quantity of tickets was stolen from a Royal Mail van near the club's stadium.
The tickets – all for City fans – were inside two bags of special delivery mail taken from the back of the van on Ashton New Road. It is unclear whether the vehicle was stopped or this was an opportunist crime but City now face the headache of whether to reissue the tickets and risk hundreds of fans arriving for a match they cannot attend. The club have "strongly advised" fans not to purchase tickets from unofficial sources and are in discussions with the Football Association and police about whether to reissue or write off the allocation – part of the 31,500 for the West End of Wembley for the match on Saturday 16 April. Police are aiming to segregate fans and the availability of so many tickets on the black market will not help.
When 1,600 tickets for the 2006 Liverpool v West Ham FA Cup final were stolen from Liverpool, they were not reissued as Cardiff's Millennium Stadium systems were unable to recognise duplicates. If City's allocation is 900 less, it will be fans lower down the waiting list who will miss out on the chance to see the semi-final. The van was travelling from the club shop to a Royal Mail sorting office when the theft occurred, shortly before 7.50pm last Friday.
The FA said the decision was one for the club and police, and it seems the Metropolitan Police will help establish a course of action. The theft hampers attempts to prevent violence at the match which, against the police's preference, will be a tea-time kick-off. Dedicated "red" and "blue" motorway service stations have been designated on the route down to London and there are also United and City trains to the capital.
Trains bringing fans home from the Manchester FA Cup semi-final will be held back if the match goes to extra-time. Five extra trains, each seating 439 people, have been secured for the day. Club officials are hopeful of chartering more but they have warned fans to make sure they book a seat first and do not turn up hoping to buy a ticket on board.
It is another cup competition that is occupying the thoughts of City's owners. So set are they on reaching the Champions League that on the morning of Sunday's game against Sunderland, the chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, addressed the players on the subject.
After Sunday's 5-0 destruction of Sunderland the gap between Manchester City and Spurs is six points, although the London club have a game in hand and still have to come to Eastlands, where they have won six of their last seven matches and where they secured Champions League qualification 11 months ago. Mubarak and the rest of his Abu Dhabi United group are determined there will be no repetition.
"The chairman addressed us and outlined what it would mean to the club," said Adam Johnson, who scored the first of City's five on Sunday. "I think it spurred everyone on to victory against Sunderland.
"He said he was fully backing us and that everyone was behind us to get that Champions League place and he also said how important it was to win a trophy because we hadn't won one for more than 30 years. It was a really motivational message for us to push on."