Manchester United left with no defence in the shocking treatment of their loyal fans

United's 12-month ban, issued to 40-year loyal supporter Graeme Clarke, is an alarming sign of how clubs are try to seize control

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What is so striking about the case of Manchester United fan Graeme Clarke and his uncollected ticket is that his 40 years of loyal support ultimately counted for nothing. His huge financial and time investment over the years, his planting the seed in his young family to do the same, none of it mattered at all when weighed against what United call their ‘Official Club Sanctions document’.

That lack of human consideration, lack of acceptance of the fact that things can get in the way of football, is why United felt that they could throw the book, or the document, at Clarke simply for missing a match. He had been to 54 away grounds with United, three European Cup finals, and the rest. No-one could be more committed to watching Manchester United away than him.

The club might well argue that they need to ensure that every sold seat is filled, to ensure that they continue to get full allocations for away games in future. By doing so they would defend the interests of their away-attending fans, by getting as many of them into each away game as possible.

This might be a persuasive argument in other circumstances, but not here. The club cannot claim to defend the interests of its fans in general, when this is how it treats them on an individual level. It cannot possibly say that it is standing up for the hard-working long-travelling loyal supporters as a block, when it treats one of their number this badly.

Ultimately the club has another motive driving its new officiousness. United, simply put, want control. They want to know exactly which fans are attending each away game, and to clamp down on the time honoured tradition of season ticket holders in the loyalty pot passing away tickets on to their friends. That is why this season more and more United fans have been asked to collect their away tickets in person at the ground, rather than being trusted to receive them by post.

If United reduce the passing-on of away tickets, they hope they can spread the whole years’ worth of away tickets more evenly among all season ticket holders. An admirable plan in itself, but also an effective way of encouraging people to buy the home cup ticket packages which are a pre-requirement to the away games ballot.

This is how big clubs see their most loyal fans now. They are delighted to have them as a means of sign-posting and marketing their authenticity and passion around the world. They are happy to take money off others as inducement to join the club. But it is all on the club’s terms, with fans having to jump through the ticket office’s increasingly difficult hoops. Never mind the families, traditions or circumstances of the case. Not when they clash with the ‘Official Club Sanctions document’.