MP backs Manchester United supporters' campaign

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The Independent Online

A senior Liberal Democrat MP has written to the Office of Fair Trading to back a fans' campaign against Manchester United's ticketing policy.

Don Foster, the party's Culture, Media and Sport spokesman, has blasted the Old Trafford club's "outrageous" automatic cup scheme, which forces season-ticket holders to agree in advance to buy tickets for cup games even though they do not know how many they will have to pay for and who the opposition will be.

The Manchester United Supporters' Trust lodged official papers with the OFT last week, claiming the English and European champions had 'breached its statutory and legal obligations to season-ticket holders' - although no decision has yet been made on whether there is a case to answer.

Now Foster has written to the OFT and Culture, Media and Sport secretary Andy Burnham to back their campaign.

"This effectively amounts to the club demanding a blank cheque from the consumer," Foster said of the scheme - which no longer includes Carling Cup matches - in his letter to the OFT.

"Furthermore the Automatic Cup Scheme is being imposed in the context of 60 per cent ticket increases since the Glazer family's takeover of Manchester United in 2005, despite express promises by the Glazer's that they would not raise ticket prices.

"The Automatic Cup Scheme abuses the monopoly of loyalty Manchester United hold over their fans, and appears to amount to contract bundling and an abuse of a dominant market position, as outlined in MUST's submission."

The letter continues: "The Automatic Cup Scheme appears to be neither fair nor reasonable practice, and instead seems to represent the latest example of Football fans not getting a fair deal."

In a further statement, Foster added: "For a Premier League club to essentially demand their fans write them a blank cheque is outrageous.

"It should not be swept under the carpet."

An all-party meeting of MPs will discuss the matter at Westminster on December 10, and the Football Supporters' Federation has also come out in support of the United fans.

"The FSF is fully supportive of the action being taken by MUST to respond to such unfair practices. If this action is successful it could have positive benefits for supporters at many clubs," chairman Dr Malcolm Clarke said.

While United are making no official comment, they are likely to mount a robust defence of their position.

In particular they are likely to point to the fact they have axed Carling Cup games from the automatic cup scheme and made Under-16 season tickets exempt from the scheme altogether.

In addition, senior citizens have been given permission to upgrade their tickets to adult prices for individual games to make them easier to sell through the official club website.

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