It's too easy to say they were too expensive; THE TICKET DEBATE

Graham Kelly, the chief executive of the Football Association, defends seat pricing policy for the FA Cup semi-finals
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The Independent Online
Let's be clear - FA Cup semi-finals are special. Ask players, ask managers; yes and ask the fans too. Neither the winners nor the losers, nor supporters will forget the dramas that unfolded so brilliantly at Old Trafford and Villa Park.

Of course it was disappointing there weren't capacity crowds to watch two such great spectacles. And nobody wants to know why more urgently than those of us at The Football Association.

But frankly it's too easy to say tickets were too expensive, and that's the end of it. If this was the case, why did the problem not arise last year - or the year before - when tickets were priced at the same levels?

Tickets are going to cost more for "special" games. But it is ludicrous to suggest that anyone here wants to rip off fans. We aren't greedy. We do care. The Independent's reference yesterday to fans as "cash cows being milked at the gate" suggests that all the recent talk of mad cow disease has reached previously immune parts of the journalistic profession.

Much of the problem on Sunday stemmed from the relatively small number of cheaper seats made available at Old Trafford where virtually every seat is top quality.

Also, in the case of Aston Villa supporters, it was the second weekend in succession that they'd been asked to travel 100 miles and more to a big Cup tie. The previous Sunday they'd won the Coca-Cola Cup in splendid style at Wembley.

Taking two well-supported clubs to a neutral ground does have its problems. Safety and security and segregation of rival fans , all are priorities for obvious reasons. Our new stadiums - like Old Trafford - are magnificent. But an even distribution of every category of tickets is well nigh impossible. Why go to neutral grounds for semi-finals then? Ah, the traditions of the FA Cup are important to just about everyone in football as the Independent is never slow to remind us. Remember the furore when we've taken semi- finals to Wembley in the past.

Of course we sympathise with fans like those of Aston Villa after their recent excursions. But the frank truth is that there will be a price for the success of their team. More games will mean more cost.

What we will always seek is consistency and fairness. No one denies we would have liked bigger crowds for England's games at Wembley over the past two years. We have run incentive schemes, and sought to attract schoolchildren in addition to expanding our Family Enclosure arrangements.

We are wary of raising expectations by admission policies for one game that are scrapped for the next one on purely commercial grounds.

But reality is that England have been playing friendlies because we haven't needed to qualify for Euro 96. Friendlies don't attract the crowds that qualifying matches for World Cup and European Championships inevitably do. Ask Portugal who lured just 3,000 to Lisbon last week.

Ask Belgium whose audience was 16,000 on the same night. Ask Germany - 25,000 in Munich. Ask France who face 24 months of friendlies leading up to the World Cup finals.

What we have sought are fair prices, and then stuck to them. If there are lessons to be learned from the empty seats of last weekend, be certain we'll learn from them.

References in your coverage to the professional and non-professional game, and their representation on the Match and Grounds Committee here are at the very best superfluous.

Be sure of one thing more - we care about the fans because overwhelmingly we and our families are fans.

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