Ticketing: what price on loyalty?

You could hear the collective sharp intact of breath from one end of the A13 to the other when the dreaded phrase, 'away tickets scheme', surfaced again.

And it was as predictable as it was disappointing to once again see West Ham fans pitched against each other over this highly emotive, complicated issue. Everyone has a opinion, many thousands have a position in the great scheme of things to protect and there is never an easy solution.

Fans at Bournemouth were furious, I am told on good authority, that many years of loyalty - and what these fans consider just reward for their commitment to the club - was being threatened. Or so it seemed.

The away season ticket holders - and, to a lesser extent the priority points brigade - were already pretty annoyed that, for some months now, they have been hung out to dry over their coveted place in the system. A place hard won with hard miles and their just reward for travelling the country for years to support the Irons.

Their questions were obvious. Why now? Why are we the only ones being blamed for the perceived problems that the scheme has thrown up?

And more importantly, who or what is behind suggestions that the club want to change the whole system to allow newer season ticket holders -some 25,000 or so of them, most with only a couple of years time served - a crack at attending away matches?

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Their fears were heightened by an 'announcement' that an OSB sub-committee chaired by Sean Whetstone was being put together to discuss and presumably make suggestions on the away ticket scheme to the board.

A meeting planned for this week, with very little notice and not allowing for any input from the people most effected. That's the 800 plus Bondholders, 700 away season ticket holders, countless priority points fans and so on.

It's not surprising that fans are perturbed by developments.

Then comes the rub. Even conspiracy theories. Very quickly after all this came to light, various luminaries were insisting that nobody had mentioned abandoning the AST scheme or dumping priority points and anyone that does was being led astray. It's all fake news.

Now I reckons that fake news is nothing more than things published that Donald Trump doesn't like, even if they are true.

Is it fake news, or do the AST folk have cause for concern? There was plenty of 'don't you believe it', of pedantic, patronising stuff floating around social media. But you have got to be blind or deaf or both to think this threat does not exist.

It should be stressed that Whetstone has denied ASTs and priority points will be up for discussion at the meeting. However an awful lot of fans remain sceptical about someone seemingly so close to the Board being able to host and select those invited to it.

Really, it should never have got to this stage; open involvement with all fans groups would've be a good start...

Let's go back to the summer of the move from Upton Park. The club tried then to abolish large elements of the away ticket system, but after much anger they dumped that idea, opting for the 10 per cent ballot some time after.

The dye had been set though; many away fans I have travelled with for years were, and still are, sceptical of the club's long term plans.

Scroll on to last week and a lengthy, well observed and written, article on another respected site talking of the ticket scheme and announcing that a couple of contributors to that site had been invited by Whetstone onto his sub-committee. The site in question is not part of the OSB.

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At this point it is worth asking why the club, who won't talk to any group or individual outside the OSB, are happy to bring in two guys attached to West Ham Till I die?

Anyway. The away ticket scheme figured prominently on the comments attached to that WHTID article including suggestions that AST should be abandoned. That suggestion has also been floated, twice to memory, on C&H, the site Whetstone contributes to.

It has also been a hot topic on KUMB's forum and the Facebook pages of Hammers United, WHUISA and plenty of others. So to suggest that changing the away tickets policy is not part of the general discussion, is frankly nonsense.

And it in no way dispels the genuine fears of the away season ticket holders, fears I have heard frequently on my travels, that the club may well be considering changes in the desire to appease the corporate end of the operation.

Our fans are not stupid, when they can smell something fishy you can be sure there are fish around.

Either way there has been quite a backlash from away fans, in particular through Hammers United, WHUISA and KUMB.com on the subject. And there seems to be nobody fighting the corner of the away fans, who feel they are unjustly being blamed for all the problems that afflict the system.

Claims, constantly, that they are responsible for tickets finding their way onto twitter for resale or the black market. The Bondholders are being blamed, the away fans are being blamed - but where is the proof?

And why is a hastily formed sub-committee of the much maligned OSB being given the task of coming up with their observations? Do they have greater expertise than the professionals the club employ, do they know more about it than the AST folk?

Attempts were made to ask for the meeting to be delayed to allow away fans to be consulted, presumably by Hammer United at the Everton match. That request has been denied, which has done little to quell the anger of fans finding their way onto my screen on an hourly basis!

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What is disappointing is that when something as important as this comes onto the agenda, it quickly descends into acrimony between fans and differing groups. And all this has occurred since we left Upton Park, when at times the club did not even take the full quota of away tickets for fear of being left with some unsold.

It also must not be forgotten that it was the club who introduced away season tickets, assumedly to reduce admin costs, dealing with the several hundred fans each week who go to all games. The priority scheme was also the club's idea, to thank fans for their loyalty and to form an orderly queue.

Then we have the Bondholders. They are also being fingered in the supposedly great away ticket scandal. But, after talking to a few of them, their entitlement to away ticket priority is enshrined in their legal agreement.

The club also now include away tickets in their inducement to persuade fans to buy the expensive corporate package - something like 200 we have been told - and there were fans at Bournemouth, one of the most difficult games to get away tickets for, who had never been to an away match before.

Additionally, there are independent coach firms who offer tickets and travel packages; sometimes adverts appear on social media before even the away priority points section opens up.

Players and club staff get allocations, too. But the finger never gets pointed anywhere else but at the away scheme fans, AST and priority points. And they are pretty pissed off by it all. Where is the proof of wholesale corruption, how many tickets are we talking about?

Hundreds of our fans have been buying our allocations, obeying the regulations to the letter, and travelling to matches for many, many years without the hint of corruption.

The pressure now is coming from the fact that 25,000 plus more season ticket holders exists, and many seem to think they have a right to an away ticket ahead of folk who have travelled the land for decades loyally supporting the team at great cost.

Those fans fear they are about to be thrown under the proverbial bus. One fan spelt it out to KUMB: "If they don't do the hard miles then they can fuck off." I think we all got that!

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We are talking about the club's most loyal fans here; people who travel through thick and thin, snow, rain and the vagaries of the travel system. Sadly in this world, there is no such thing as a perfect system for selling tickets for events when the demand outweighs the tickets available.

There is always a queue, it's a fact of life. And people don't like queue jumpers.

Something like 57,000 people now seem to want a shout when there are just 3,000 tickets for sale. There are bound to be instances of tickets ending up on the black market, or in some overseas corporate package.

You can't beat it. Try buying a Bruce Springsteen concert ticket, waiting for the 9.00am box office opening and finding them gone in 15 minutes. Ten minutes later there are thousands on ticket sites and social media.

So if there is any advice for the club from KUMB, it's to get off the backs of your most loyal fans. Follow up every ticket you see appearing on social media sites or twitter, buy them and then trace then back.

But of course, nobody is talking about ending the AST scheme, are they ? So that's all right then!

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