Middlesbrough fans watching the draw for the Capital One Cup fourth round last night were no doubt rubbing their at the prospect of a trip to local rivals Sunderland, while fearing another paltry allocation on Wearside.
Last time Boro played up at the Stadium of Light, they got just 3,000 tickets when they were entitled to 7,200.
Fans were understandably angry – but how do you go about getting a bigger allocation?
As editor of Manchester United fan site redsaway.com I’ve learned how the system works over the last few years and, with the help of many others, have got some pretty decent results by fighting the corner of our supporters.
Our allocations have gone up at Liverpool, Sunderland, Wolves and Arsenal to name a few thanks to myself and hard-working members of groups such as the FSF, the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust and the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association.
First, it’s important to understand how the system works.
When a league fixture becomes known, the stadium safety manager of the host stadium will consider if the match is likely to be contentious in any way.
If it is, then they will draw up a match risk assessment.
This assessment then goes to what is known as a safety advisory group (SAG).
Members of the SAG include representatives of the house club, the emergency services, the local council and some other groups.
Councils get involved because the game cannot take place without a safety certificate signed by a council boss, usually the building control department manager.
They will meet and consider whether any special arrangements are needed for the match.
Some SAGs understand the need for potentially controversial decisions to be taken by a democratically elected body of councillors so they come up with a proposal and put it to a local council committee.
For example, Liverpool licensing committee handles decisions involving Liverpool and Everton and Sunderland regulatory committee handles decisions involving Sunderland.
Whatever the committee decides goes.
However, some SAGs make the final decision themselves – and those matches are hardest to find out information about and influence.
For cup games, it is different because the time between the draw and the match is often limited.
Usually, if the stadium safety manager knows the match will be contentious, they will either arrange an urgent SAG meeting or, if it can’t happen, speak to SAG members – and representatives of the visiting club – by phone and email to get a quick solution.
It seems a bit bizarre given that, providing there are no reductions, visiting clubs are almost always given more tickets for cup games than league games, so the potential for problems is always going to be higher.
Last season, we had a ridiculous situation where Sunderland regulatory committee decided to limit United’s 3,000 entitlement to 1,900 tickets for a league game over fears fans would stand.
The decision was made four hours before Everton brought 7,000 standing fans to Sunderland and the reason no action could be taken is because officials couldn’t get together before the Everton game.
So here is what you can do:
- Be aware of historically contentious games – have there been any previous reductions between your club and particular clubs you’re due to play this season?
- Email these host clubs to politely enquire if they are likely to reduce your club’s allocation
- Don’t be afraid of being persistent. If you don’t get a reply within a week, email again or try another club email address.
- Always correspond in writing so you can prove what was said and when if needed.
- If you still get no joy, email the local council’s building control manager. With a bit of digging, you can easily get this from the council’s website or by calling the council switchboard and asking for that email address.
- Ask them for the dates of any meetings related to the match
- View the meeting agenda on the council website seven days in advance of the meeting. This will detail the proposal and the reasons for it and will allow you to build a case against it.
- Unlike SAG meetings, council committee meetings are public, so you can attend. Ask the council’s democratic services department if you can speak at the meeting, but they will usually only let you do this if you represent a fans’ group known to represent fans of your club.
- Lobby committee members in advance of the meeting. Email them, politely, with your views. You can get their email address from the council website.
- When considering how to fight reductions, being emotive or aggressive will only alienate decision makers. Be balanced, polite and helpful – even if they know absolutely nothing about football.
- Offer solutions. For example, last season, Liverpool licensing committee saw aisle blocking as a problem and their solution was chopping 1,200 tickets off the allocation. We established that people moving from restricted view seats was the root of the problem and, this year, persuaded them to not sell 184 restricted view seats instead, and it worked.
- Understand that, in all likelihood you will lose the first battle, but in drawing attention to the issues surrounding particular matches, you can be prepared for next season’s match and be assured the decision makers know you’ll be back to stand your corner again and you'll often win.
- The Freedom of Information Act is your friend. It allows you to write to councils asking for pretty much anything you want about public office.
- Ask your club what it is doing to campaign for higher allocations when you play away.
- When the match has been played, email the council asking for copies of all email sent and received by councillors and council officers and the minutes of SAG meetings. You’ll be amazed at some of things you discover.
- You can also ask for copies of the match risk assessment if you think the details in it would be useful. If the response is ‘no’ appeal. And if the appeal fails, refer it to the information commission on the grounds of public interest.
- If you genuinely feel the authorities involved are being unfair, approach the press. Email your local paper and tell them what you’ve tried to find out – or ask a fan group if they will put a news article on its website. For example, Liverpool and Everton wouldn’t tell us how many tickets they wanted to cut for this season’s games against United, so we couldn’t prepare properly for the meeting. We published a news story on redsaway.com and were quickly approached by both clubs with the figures.
- Compare notes with fans’ groups of other clubs who’ve had problems at the same ground. The FSF will try to put you in touch with them.
- If you still need help, email me at email@example.com