United ban fans on FA blacklist

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Manchester United yesterday revealed they have already taken action on supporters who appeared on the Football Association's Cup final blacklist. No fewer than 13 names connected with United appeared on the 36-strong list issued by the FA on Monday, as stiffest-ever penalties were handed down on those who sold tickets for last season's FA Cup final at a profit.

Ken Merrett, the United secretary, said: "We were made aware of these people immediately after the final and took action to withdraw whatever facilities they had with United. Anyone who was a season ticket or league match ticket holder had this withdrawn and those who were in our membership scheme had their membership cancelled. This would make it virtually impossible for them to continue watching United games."

Merrett claimed many of the blacklisted supporters had allowed their tickets for the final with Everton to go to a third party, who had sold them on for a profit. The FA's punishment was to ban the guilty parties from receiving further tickets for up to 20 years.

On the subject of tickets, United are to send a report to the FA outlining their observations on the price structure laid down for last Sunday's two FA Cup semi-finals.

United regulars pay an pounds 18 top-price to watch their Premiership matches at Old Trafford, but a large number of Liverpool and Aston Villa fans were forced to part with pounds 20 more at the weekend. United supporters, who travelled to Villa Park to see their team beat Chelsea in the other semi- final, were also faced with the same kind of structure - and the FA have said that they will attempt to discover whether this resulted in both matches failing to sell-out.

Merrett said: "We will be sending an official report. It is not a complaint about the cost, but we will make several points to the FA, especially the lack of junior facilities for the semi-finals. We realise the difficulty of providing areas which can cater for juniors, but I think this is something that they should perhaps consider in the future. All tickets were full price."

Merrett admitted that he was surprised that neither semi-final venue was full, but added: "The fact that our game was shown live on the BBC and that Villa supporters had the cost of a Wembley cup final the previous week could have played a part."

Meanwhile, Denis Irwin, United's Republic of Ireland full-back who has been ruled out for three matches with a hamstring problem, says he is close to playing again, putting himself in contention for this weekend's crucial Premiership games. This will come as good news for Alex Ferguson, the manager, who is preparing to go into the Easter programme, starting with the Manchester derby this Saturday, without Steve Bruce or Gary Pallister.

Suspensions will also now affect United's title challenge. Roy Keane misses Monday's home game against Coventry City after being booked in the game against Tottenham last weekend. Nicky Butt will be out for the last two home games against Leeds and Nottingham Forest following his yellow card in the semi-final against Chelsea.