The announcement that Arsenal will not be giving Spurs the full allocation we are entitled to under FA competition rules was not the greatest of surprises. It’s not, after all, the first time that club has found an excuse to cut the allocation to us. Once again Arsenal have been allowed to make the rules up to suit themselves, and this decision sits alongside the infamous events of 1919, which marks them out as the only team in the top flight not to be there on playing merit; the imposition of the club’s name on Gillespie Road underground station and the events surrounding Lasagnagate, when Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, from his location as a guest of Arsenal FC at Highbury, told Spurs they could face a points deduction if they did not play the fixture against West Ham, despite having 10 players struck down by food poisoning. There has never been any doubt in my mind that if it were Arsenal’s players who were unable to play, their fixture would have rearranged. Pure supposition on my part and I can’t prove anything. But when the rub of the green seems constantly to go one way, it does make you wonder.
The decision will do little to improve relations between the clubs, but it’s important that, as fans, we don’t get caught up in the kind of tribal rivalry that has too often divided us. Alan Fisher at Tottenham on My Mind has, in typically eloquent and passionate style, set out why this decision stinks. In recent seasons Leeds, Chelsea, Leyton Orient and Plymouth Argyle have been allowed to take full allocations in cup games. In the case of both Leeds and Chelsea, the same concerns about potential crowd trouble could not have been far away. And yet the full allocations were granted. It seems that problems at the Chelsea game are being cited as one of the reasons why our allocation has been cut – how nice it would be one day for us not to have to depend on events surrounding that club for our own fortune – but from what I gather many of the problems that night were caused by a shambolic stewarding operation.
I’m not naive enough to believe that every Chelsea fan behaved like an angel that night, but again it’s important not to let tribal affiliation cloud the facts. Arsenal messed up, but Spurs are paying the price. If the Emirates is the world class stadium the club claims it is, it should be able to handle the ticket allocations the rules require. If the club claims it cannot meet the requirements set down by rule – and that’s what it is claiming – it should be kicked out of the competition. Stevenage, who were denied the promotion they had legitimately won to the Football League in 1996 because of insufficient ground facilities, may have a few observations here. Of course, no sanction will be taken against Arsenal, because they are a big club, with lots of money, and influence with the powers that be. They will get away with this, as they have got away with so much before.
Again, it’s important to emphasise that this is the club I’m talking about. Many Arsenal fans have said they wanted the full allocation to be granted to Spurs because it would make for a better cup tie atmosphere. Unlike the people who run their club, they don’t seem frightened of the effect 9,000 away fans would have. They’ve obviously got more faith in their team than their board have. While the rivalry is fierce, I’d say it’s not as bad as the rivalry with Chelsea or West Ham – and it’s interesting to note Spurs have granted the latter side their full allocation for this week’s cup tie. No safety and security fears there apparently – maybe our stadium is not as far behind the Emirates as they say.
And, as Alan Fisher points out, if safety and public order is a concern, why allow the game to kick off at 5.15 on the first Saturday after Christmas? The answer, as we all know, is that TV wants to kick off then and, as football has sold itself to TV, it’s TV that calls the shots. Conveniently for Arsenal, in this case. Interesting to note, if you read that Lasagnagate link above, that the police vetoed a move to put that game back to 7pm.
Most of the attention has been on the number of tickets allocated, and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust has continued its good work by submitting Freedom of Information requests to find out exactly why the decision was made, and by whom. But attention should also be focussed on the price of tickets. For some years, Arsenal have reduced prices for their domestic cup games. I was contacted by a Leyton Orient fan who paid £34 for a lower tier ticket for the replayed FA Cup tie in March 2011. Leeds and Plymouth fans on social media report paying around £20. Earlier this season, Chelsea fans paid £20, with one telling me he paid £10 for a lower tier seat. And yet we are being charged £62 – a scandalous price in any circumstances, but especially so now.
This is blatant greed and exploitation – again a decision from the club itself that has dismayed many of its own fans, with the more astute noting it came 24 hours before the announcement of a 3% increase in ticket prices for next season at what is already the most expensive ground in the country. It’s proof of how much the football authorities, for all the talk about “engagement” with the fans and of how much they value ‘the passion of the fans’ really don’t give a tuppeny one. They deal in bigger denominations these days, you see.
There are also questions to be asked about THFC plc’s role in this affair too. The club apparently pushed hard for the full allocation, which is to be welcomed. But once that was lost, and knowing that the away side is still entitled to 45% of the gate, I wonder how hard THFC plc tried to keep the prices down. Of course, the club has pointed out that pricing is not its decision, and of course it isn’t. And I know some people will be annoyed that a supporter should question his own club. But, it has to be said, THFC plc hasn’t always had the best record when it comes to the commercial exploitation of fans. If I am too suspicious, I will be happy to apologise for casting aspersions should the club wish to be absolutely transparent about the discussions.
The price is as scandalous as the allocation, perhaps more so. But here’s the biggest problem, and possibly a neat bit of marketing too. The only way clubs are going to stop charging rip-off prices is if we refuse to pay them. There is little chance of the 5,186 tickets the World Class Stadium has deigned to provide not being snapped up, especially when Dial Square/Woolwich has made a decision that appears to be designed to reduce the potential 12th man effect at a key game. So, once again, they will get away with it, and to some extent we will be to blame if we pay the price being asked.
But… More than a few of the large group I regularly attend with have said they will not go to this. (That doesn’t make any of them any less of a fan, by the way). On social media, which is not the most accurate measure of opinion, just one channel, there has been more discussion of boycotting this game than I’ve seen for some time. It won’t happen, and I believe the Trust is right not to get drawn into calls for a boycott. But sooner, rather than later, we are going to have to boycott a big game. Leave the seats empty, hit a club’s income and image, and show that there is a line beyond which we will not go.