Manchester United face revolt from fans over plans to charge top prices for Europa League games

The reigning Premier League champions look likely to miss out on a Champions League place for next season

Ian Herbert
Thursday 20 February 2014 02:00
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Views about Manchester United’s direction have become more polarised, according to recent surveys of supporters’ opinions
Views about Manchester United’s direction have become more polarised, according to recent surveys of supporters’ opinions

Manchester United face a backlash from season-ticket holders, who have learnt that they will be charged Champions League prices for Europa League seats next season, in the event of the club slipping into the competition.

Fans had hoped that Europa League games would be excluded from season-ticket prices for 2014-15, as they were when the club were eliminated from the Champions League at the group stage two years ago and faced Ajax and Athletic Bilbao.

However, tickets for the lesser European competition will be included in the controversial “automatic cup scheme”, which also forces season-ticket holders to buy a seat for FA Cup matches and is one of the most resented features of the commercial regime under the ownership of the Glazer family. The decision to charge fans up to £50 for the dubious privilege of watching United play the lesser lights of European football next autumn has the potential to persuade many supporters not to renew their season tickets.

At a fans’ forum last week, the club did not provide a direct answer to the question of whether season-ticket holders would be exempt from paying for Europa League tickets and whether the pricing regime would change. But it is understood that there are no plans to reduce the sums supporters will be charged for group-stage European nights, as United also did for the games against Ajax and Bilbao, who eliminated them from the 2011-12 Europa League.

Season-ticket holders would be likely to buy tickets for Europa League games even if they were excluded from the automatic cup scheme, because not doing so would mean they receive a lower priority in a ballot for away matches, semi-finals or finals.

United insist they remain hopeful that they can still make the Champions League, with 12 Premier League games to go beginning with Saturday evening’s match at Crystal Palace. But with the club languishing in seventh position – 11 points adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool – the odds are on them not qualifying for the elite tournament.

That would bring the minnows of Europe to Old Trafford: Ukrainian club Chornomorets Odesa, Esbjerg of Denmark, the Romanians of Pandurii Targu Jiu and Portugal’s Estoril were a few of the teams who featured in the competition’s group stage this season.

The decision to retain the same ticketing regime brings a risk, at a time when supporters are being asked for patience during the difficult first season of the David Moyes era.

Moyes has lost a significant amount of support, to judge by the latest survey of a sample panel of 300 United fans questioned by the Red Issue fanzine. The survey group, which was last month heavily in support of Moyes being given until Christmas or the end of next season to get things right at United, is now drifting more towards the view that he must be judged at the end of this season.

While 73 per cent said last month that Moyes should not be removed before Christmas, only 51 per cent now feel that way, with those who feel he should be judged at the end of next season rising from 20 per cent to 32 per cent. The percentage believing he should be removed now has risen from 7 per cent to 17 per cent.

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