Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Do United fans want to see a return to standing areas in Premier League grounds?

The BBC recently commissioned an NOP survey on the state of English football. Among other things fans were asked whether or not they think match-tickets are too expensive, not surprisingly, 85% of respondents answered 'yes, tickets are too expensive'.

The BBC wanted to know if real football fans are being priced out of following their favourite club, and given that 85% of respondents said that 'yes tickets are too expensive' one might have assumed that many of those questioned may have been die-hard traditionalists, but think again because another question was 'Do you object to football fixtures being moved from the traditional Saturday 3pm kick-off? 32% - responded in the affirmative, but an incredible 62% - replied No.

The thing is, I am a traditionalist, I do not like all-seater stadiums. Yes, we all feel sorry for those who died at Hillsborough, but that disaster was entirely avoidable. The Taylor report that followed recommended all-seater stadiums. However much stadiums have improved and they have, the same chaotic policing and opening of gates could still result in another disaster even at an all-seater stadium and so I'd argue that policing outside football grounds is just as important as having adequate safety measures inside football grounds.


A case in point - 2007 Lille v United: An injured United fan being carried after the police and stewards allowed too many fans into the all-seater Stade Felix Bollaert - which is a modern ground that opened for the 1998 World Cup.

Safe standing in football grounds is a viable option as has been proven in Germany in the Bundesliga.

I would also like to see most games kicking-off at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. Football was by tradition always played on a Saturday afternoon. Sunday was a day of rest, a day for family gatherings and dinner before the return to the full horror of work. Those traditions have been affected by TV schedules, as has family life in part due to those who run our national game.

I also don't not like the fact that working-class fans are being priced out of following United.

When I was a lad (and all of that) you were brought up to follow the team that your old man followed, and when you were old enough you went with him. Back then, and by then I mean in the 70s, you did not need a match-ticket, (unless it was an 'all-ticket match) you could decide to go to the match on a Saturday morning. Wonderful.

At that time season tickets were virtually unheard of, because for one thing you could not buy one - they were virtually priceless. That's unless someone died and you were lucky enough to be a relation, or a very close friend, and then you'd take up that season ticket, which is why not so long ago they reckoned that several thousand season ticket holders had in fact died, which was true.

United eventually cottoned to this, the club then held an amnesty for a short period so that the current holder of what had become a family heirloom could have the correct name printed on the season ticket.

Move the clock forward to the current situation, post the Glazer takeover, those season tickets that had always been expensive have now reached the point whereby many traditional fans can no longer afford to follow United at all. The option of just turning up before the game went out of the window a very long time ago, as has taking your son, unless you have serious spare cash.

Over the last few seasons there's been 'fears' that Premier League attendances have been falling which they have to a point, but the attendance figures at many clubs have been going up and down while at United the full house signs have been constant.


Yes, Old Trafford is full every home game, but it is no longer full of traditional fans, what's more many fans have been forced to buy tickets which they might not otherwise want. I refer to the controversial 'automatic cup scheme' which stipulates that you must, want them or not, buy tickets for all home games.

Those season tickets that were not so long ago family heirloooms can now be bought by any Johnny Come Lately, Tom, Dick or Harry. So in a nutshell, it may all appear to be rosy at United, that's if you are willing to conveniently forget about the club's massive debts, but scratch underneath the surface and many fans are very unhappy about what is happening to football and in particular at United.

So what hope is there for those fans like me who feel like dinosaurs, yearning for a return to standing on the terraces with your mates and for 3pm Saturday kick-offs? Sadly not a lot I fear.

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