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.
Manchester United vs Stoke player ratings
Manchester United vs Stoke player ratings
1/22 David de Gea
Didn't have much to do but fluffed his lines when called upon and let Stoke equalise. 5
2/22 Antonio Valencia
Not overly busy and managed to keep his shirt rigorously tucked in all game. 6
3/22 Eric Bailly
A solid game, continues to impress. 6
4/22 Chris Smalling
Not much to do but reliable enough. 6
5/22 Daley Blind
Give us this day our Daley Blind. The versatile Dutchman was reliable as ever. 6
6/22 Ander Herrera
Should he have been sent off? Let Robbie Savage debate that. As it was he had a decent game. 6
7/22 Paul Pogba
What does £100m get you these days? A decent if largely uninspiring game against Stoke, that’s what. 6 Jesse Lingard: An encouraging performance before being subbed in the second half. 6
8/22 Jesse Lingard
An encouraging performance before being subbed in the second half. 6
9/22 Juan Mata
Subbed for Rooney in the second half, but solid enough before that. 6
10/22 Marcus Rashford
Oh he’s quite good isn't he? Always lively but couldn't get on the scoresheet. 6
11/22 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Denied on multiple occasions, a frustrating afternoon, particularly for anyone who made him their Fantasy Football captain. 6
12/22 Lee Grant
He might have a name straight out of a 90s boyband but he had a stormer in goal. 8
13/22 Glen Johnson
Lively going forward, occasionally suspect in defence - I feel like we know this about Glen Johnson by now. 6
14/22 Ryan Shawcross
Largely kept United at bay, solid enough. 6
15/22 Bruno Martins Indi
Continues to look a good signing for Stoke. 6
16/22 Erik Pieters
Reliable if a little uninspiring. 6
17/22 Geoff Cameron
Unlucky that his great tackle provided the assist for United’s goal. 6
18/22 Glenn Whelan
Played to the best of his abilities but wasn't exactly superlative. 6
19/22 Xherdan Shaqiri
The Alpine Messi? Not on the basis of this. Could do better. 6
20/22 Joe Allen
Smashed it in from a yard out to equalise, got fouled a lot. Solid game. 7
21/22 Marko Arnautovic
Sulked quite a lot and got subbed in the second half. Not his best game. 6
22/22 Wilfried Bony
Where is the striker who terrified defences at Swansea? Not here today. 6
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’.
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