On the pitch Manchester United still have a great chance of winning their fourth title in a row but once again off-the-pitch news concerning the club’s supporters takes centre stage- when at this stage of the season it shouldn’t. It has emerged that the club are considering charging fans for the right to apply for away tickets. This is so it can make the club £1m and is a move that looks like an attempt by the Glazers to recover the lost revenue.
In what is likely to cause more disgruntled voices coming from the Old Trafford faithful, there is a thought that the club will discuss establishing a Premier League travel club, where supporters have to pay a joining fee. What will frustrate the United fans is that their away fan-base is arguably the most vocal and well-travelled out of any Premiership club. It is fair to say that it takes a lot for the 76,000 that fill Old Trafford to make a lot of noise because it is questionable as to how many of those supporters are actually clued-up with all things United. However, as if the fans haven’t had enough of demonstrating against Glazers with the yellow and gold campaign, those ardent away fans will just be getting angrier.
Those who have a keen eye on fans inside stadiums, and the whole ‘package’ they bring with them in terms of chants, banners etc, will have noticed that United’s away fans are nothing like the home ones. For some reason they insist on standing at away grounds and consequently several clubs have cut the size of their away allocation. The Red Devils next, and last away game of the season, is at Sunderland on 2nd May where they have only received 1,700 tickets- as opposed to a normal Premiership amount of approximately 3,000. Sunderland have explained their decision to do so by saying that United’s followers have been identified for “causing a significant safety risk.”
Whilst the safety of spectators is of paramount importance during a match-day operation, the wider scheme here suggests that United’s fans love following their team wherever they are travelling to, and whatever competition they are involved in. Maybe their enthusiasm has gone over the top because Sunderland aren’t the only club to do what they intend to when United visit the Stadium of Light, but change in respect to the usual policy of away games will not go down well as it may all become to political. This is because there could be a suggestion to introduce ID cards at away matches. This would be some move for a Premiership football club in 2010. What next, a certain age policy at stadiums that Manchester United go to?
The Glazers know that there is hostility against them, even though the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill continue to claim that they are 100% behind them. Duncan Drasdo, chairman of MUST (Manchester United Supporters Trust), has identified the negatives because MUST are obviously a leading group that continues to campaign against the Glazer family. He said: “When you look at all the graphs that were showing growth in ticket revenue, hospitality revenue and general match-day revenue, they are all dropping now. Their own advisors have said that in advice to the bond holders and they will drop next season as well. That suggests a decline in the value of the whole company, unless that revenue is replaced from somewhere else.”
Drasdo has just raised the wider scheme of things, and clearly the suspicious plans by the Glazers in order to raise funds will only add to the problems. The IMUSA (Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association) spokesman, Mark Longden, alluded to this. He said: “Supporters would be paying £20 for what would feel like a one-in-50,000 chance of getting a ticket. It’s yet another cost for the supporters. You have to be cynical when the Glazer family are concerned and this seems to be a nice way of getting their money back from the season tickets.” Longden was saying this in relation to the supposed fee that would have to be paid to join the travel club, thus being in with a chance of getting an away ticket. Clearly the chances would be slim.
As if freezing season ticket prices from next season wasn’t bad enough, more unwanted publicity has been created at this crucial stage of the season. Charging fans for the right to apply for away tickets takes away the whole ethos of a football fan. Some say that they treasure the away-day experience more because witnessing your team win a match in where you are the minority, surrounded by thousands of home fans against your team, makes the winning feeling better. Just ask those United fans at Eastlands last weekend.
There is a chance that Old Trafford may not be full in future seasons, and now there may not even be a great representation of the club at away games if fans take a hard stance against the Glazers which seems inevitable. This has all the makings of a bad move, which looks like not ending well at all.
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