The Manchester United and Sevilla ticket debacle sets an unhealthy precedent

Maybe there will come a time in a post-Mourinho and Conte world where we no longer rely on managers for our fix of box office vilification.

Maybe these disputes will reach boardroom level, and in our spiralling addiction we’ll fervently argue over which club’s chairman has the best ‘your mum’ jokes, or who’s best at insulting people with degenerative mental illnesses.

Imagine, in twenty years, desperately searching the web for a dodgy stream of two chief executives bare knuckle boxing, like some sort of WWE championship sponsored by Black Mirror and ‘Goal!’, praying for Joel Glazer to vault the barriers, grab the mic and call Abramovich a ‘commie prick’.

All bad things must start somewhere before they get worse. The story of the past few weeks is simple: Manchester United only offered Sevilla 4.1% of Old Trafford’s capacity to away supporters, against the UEFA regulated 5%. In response, Sevilla set their prices for travelling United fans at £89, £35 more than they had charged Liverpool for a group game in November.

Sevilla refused to change their pricing strategy so, United increased their own prices for travelling Sevilla fans to £89 as well.

The reports about the situation revolved around United offering to subsidise their own fans the £35 increase, bringing the price of a match ticket down to the fantastically reasonable and perfectly affordable £54.

The interpretation this received in the press was overwhelmingly positive; one of the most famous clubs in the world have come over all ‘Against Modern Football’, proof that underneath the multi-billion-pound exterior lies the old beating heart of Salford factory workers. But this whole debacle struck as a series of petty, vindictive moves in a PR war that no one will ever win.

Sevilla have also offered to reimburse the additional £35 to their travelling fans, so now we’re at a stage where both sets of fans are paying £89, £35 of which they’ll get straight back, because, well, I’m not sure, stubbornness and capriciousness amongst other things I guess.

That extra £35 is a figure emblematic of the who blinks loses, “you started it”, “yeah but my dad’s bigger than your dad” attitude so childishly adopted by both clubs.

I’m sure the respective representatives of both clubs with their three-piece suits and clipboards could have sat down with each other, maybe shared a nice bottle of rouge, talked current affairs and the pound’s exchange rate, and eventually just agreed to offer away fans the correct capacity and scrap the extra £35.

But such is the way of the world, apparently “an agreement on fixed ticket prices was not possible” and Sevilla have instead reported United to UEFA (quite what they expect them to do I’m not sure, it feels a bit like reporting that oil spills are bad for the oceans to Shell, or reporting Qatar to FIFA for bribing officials – it’s true, but they’re not really inclined to do anything about it).

The precedent being set is vicious. There are obviously rivalries in football (and long may they continue), but this whole affair struck as a malicious power play between two clubs that should know better. Where does it end?

Do we reach a stage where Chelsea are charging travelling Roma fans £140, of which £100 is being instantly reimbursed by Roma, just because at the Olimpico the price of Moretti in the concourse was increased by 20p for the visit of the English?

Or will Liverpool go further than decrease the away capacity and just ban travelling supporters altogether, and maybe even just ban the entire squad and just stand around for 90 minutes practising kick-ups (still managing to concede a few goals after some bad goalkeeping).

Take my exaggerated examples for what they are, but do bear in mind we reach dangerous waters when the people who control ticket prices are playing their own game irrespective of the one on the pitch.

I’m happy to subscribe to a world where managers find any excuse to insult and deride each other at every opportunity, but not one where these spiteful power plays take decent, honest fans in the crossfire.

If UEFA is a regulating body, then regulate. Regulate the amount of money clubs can charge away fans, regulate the backlash after any ticketing disagreement, and strictly regulate the away allocation a club can give. In this post-truth world, it seems wise to stop these juvenile games before they go too far.

The Author

Julian Roberts

@stilesmagazine @AbbeyStandPod

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