Away the lads... at a price

Before I start this condemnation of Manchester United's pricing policy for away fans... it is only fair to mention that it cost Manchester City fans ?49 to watch their side draw 0-0 at the Boleyn in November.

I mention that just to put into perspective the uproar that has followed the announcement that Manchester United are charging our fans ?45 to see next Wednesday's FA Cup third round replay at Old Trafford, having been happy to accept that their own fans were going to benefit from the Irons' decision to charge ?20 for last weekend's drawn clash between the sides.

Frankly, Man U haven't even tried to respond, or explain. But what did you all expect?

There is a broader argument that the cost of tickets for away fans has become a scandal in recent seasons.

Man City have returned 900 tickets to Arsenal for Sunday's Premier League clash at the Emirates (also on TV) that cost ?62 each, while a lot of Premier League sides now charge the thick end of ?40 plus for away tickets.

Not everyone is the same. Sunderland are charging our lot ?29 on Saturday, while Fulham want ?40 for our away game at Craven Cottage on January 30. My ticket for Wigan earlier this season was ?25.

That is good value even if we lost, but Wigan cannot fill their ground however hard the try, and always give us the whole of one end. They still couldn't get 20,000 for the match.

Wigan was the only away game I have attended this season, because I have decided I just cannot afford the Premier League prices. Last term I witnessed 15 away games In the Championship , never spent more than ?25 on a ticket and really enjoyed following Big Sam's boys through our promotion season.

But it is my decision not to pay the prices this season for away games. If I really, really wanted to, I could find the extra cash (as long as my wife doesn't get to see the ticket that is!) But I am not going to pay these prices. A line has to be drawn somewhere, my own season ticket and travel costs are high enough now I have retired, these are tough times.

And that seems to be the view of many West Ham fans who were considering going to Old Trafford next week. The fact that Man U fans benefited from our ?20 tickets last weekend just makes the whole thing more annoying.

But when I have mentioned to friends who support other clubs what Man U are doing, there has been little sympathy. The basic response has been 'look at what your own club charge away fans before you start jumping up and down.'

As for next week's cup replay, I do not believe our own leaders were not aware of what Man U were going to charge for the match. There was a hint of that in Karren Brady's column in the Sun last weekend.

She mentioned that Man United chief executive David Gill had complained to her that he was fed up with their own fans facing massive prices for away games. So I think we knew what was coming, regardless of what we charged.

Manchester United's games are always category A matches, so clubs hike the prices. We do the same thing for similar matches, all clubs do.

Manchester United have no track record of even treating their own fans with much more than contempt. They have a compulsory cup ticket policy on top of their season ticket price. They just take the price out of your bank account whether you go or not.

That is supposed to allow fans to take part in ballots for away tickets. But a friend of my son has been in every ballot this season and is yet to be allowed to purchase an away ticket.

For my sins I drink on Fridays with a bunch of Man U fans who were regulars during the days when their side couldn't win the title and even got relegated. They are proper fans, born and brought up in the Manchester area.

But to a man, they have all jacked in their season tickets over the years because of the spiralling costs since the Yanks took over.

That is happening all over the country these days, which is why there is a ready market for pubs to use dodgy foreign decoders to show live matches at 3pm on a Saturday. It is the only way ordinary fans get to see their teams these days.

The Sky Sports League (sorry Premier League) try their hardest to prosecute landlords, but frankly they are fighting a losing battle. With help of my sons who tolerate my lack of knowledge when it comes to computers, I am now able to find matches streamed from abroad on my laptop, so I do still see us in away games.

We can have something like 13,000 tickets for the cup replay, but whether it was reasonable to consider we would take that many to Old Trafford is debatable. For an 8.05pm kick-off, there is no return train to Euston that our fans can catch, unless you want to wait six hours at Wolverhampton for a connection!

That has not stopped our club sending out a very extensive e-mail encouraging us to buy tickets for the match. I don't think I have seen such a big push from our lot to get fans to travel to an away match.

And it is obvious that West Ham as well as Man U benefit from a 75,000 capacity at Old Trafford with top of the range prices.

For FA Cup ties at this stage, the away club gets about 45 per cent of the gate receipts. A Man U full house, say at ?40 average per ticket, will take ?3m. So West Ham can expect to collect a little under ?1.5m from the match receipts.

If Man U were to even consider charging ?20 a ticket next week, they would have to offer that price to their own fans in comparable seats. So that was just not going to happen. I believe that ticket prices for both matches were decided before the first match, so West Ham must have known. There has been no howling outrage from our corridors of power... just from hard-pressed fans.

The situation, though, has annoyed me. My son and me were going to go to the match, Old Trafford is our nearest away match. I recall when Paolo Di Canio scored that historic cup winner 12 years ago. I had decided not to attend because we always got battered there, and I wasn't prepared to line Man U's pockets with my money just to see us get thumped.

This time I was not prepared to miss out if there was a repeat of that miracle. But it's not going to happen, I will not pay ?45 for an away ticket, particularly after the cost of Christmas. So I will spend the evening shouting at the TV.

Of course this plays into Man U's hands. There will probably not be such a big support for the Irons at the match, and that can only help the home side's cause.

Man U are being greedy. But all of the Premier League is greedy now. There can be little justification for charging away fans at the Boleyn almost ?50 a ticket. Frankly, they are all as bad as each other.

As for me, I am going to watch our reserves play Man U at Altrincham on Monday, hopefully for far less that ?45.

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