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Published: 20 January 2002

by Red Kelly

The United allocation of tickets for the Middlesboro FA Cup game has been the cause of much debate since it was announced. The self-styled IMUSA ticket guru and new-wave songster, BDS, is on the case. Whether he can help turn this one around as he did with the allocation for Villa in the last round, remains to be seen, but in any case Iíd like to chuck this lot into the pot.

In my opinion, this below par allocation makes a mockery of the FA Cup and United are in the forefront of another scandal. Last time it was the mid-winter trip to Brazil, and now itís this, and I am sick of fielding derogatory comments by all and sundry who are (naturally) not in possession of anywhere near all the facts. When it comes to United - everyone has an opinion even those who know absolutely nothing about football.

The Brazil business will undoubtedly haunt us forever as the seagulls take great delight in dredging it up at every opportunity. How Manchester United devalued the FA Cup. Letís face it chaps - without Manchester United to write about most of you would be out of jobs. And while United take the blame, the FA and the Government seem to have been (conveniently) absolved of any responsibility for that fiasco. Typical of course, and we would expect it no other way, but letís look at how the competition is being devalued this time and who is doing the devaluing. No doubt manchester United will get the blame whatever happens (if anything does) but letís consider the following.

The FA Cup, by itís very nature, is based on single games. One-off situations which have as much to do with the luck of the draw as anything else. We all know it takes a lot of skill to win any competition, but you also need a bit of luck along the way. As Leeds and Southampton have already found out, being a Premiership team doesnít mean you canít be beaten by one from a lower divison on the day. Thatís the allure of the competition after all. But when you are drawn away from home the FA have stipulated that 15 percent of the gate has to be given over to the away support to help even up the situation a touch, or the balance would tend more towards the home team than required and thus the luck of the draw would play too large a part.

The FA obviously recognise that a vocal crowd and the familiarity of surroundings can play a significant part in the outcome of a game or they wouldnít have suggested a specific away allocation. Interesting that they should acknowledge that, considering the lack of atmosphere at some games these days and some of the problems various supporters have encountered, but thatís for another time. So the FA stipulate a larger than average percentage of seats should go to the away support. But................ the local authorities have a veto on this allocation based on safety grounds, and it is they who have reduced the United allocation to half of what it should be.

Then it seems to me it can be argued that by reducing Unitedís allocation (apparently due to persistent standing) they could also be deemed to be having an influence on the outcome of the tie - and if that is the case - doesnít it make it an unfair contest? And, by making it an unfair contest they have surely also made a mockery of the FA Cup. If United lose, it could also be argued that they would have had an influence on the final destination of the FA Cup itself. I suppose you could argue that we only received 1,100 tickets for the League game at the Riverside and still won, but thatís not the point. The FA Cup is a one-off game. Once you have lost you are out. Thereís no return. At least in the League there are home and away games and a chance to redress the balance.

Thereís another issue though. If the local authority are complaining about persistent standing (and letís make it clear that it isnít just United supporters who do this, but we are being held up as an example, and suffer ticket allocation reductions, because the home clubs know they can always fill their grounds when United come to play) then doesnít it imply that Middlesboro are incapable of stewarding their ground properly? If that is the case then the tie should be moved to a neutral venue where the stewards are capable of carrying out their duty, and where United can be allocated their due 15 percent of tickets. You see - if (as could be implied) the stewarding at the Riverside is not up to the task, then the paying public are at risk.

Why there should be any problem with standing in controlled areas is another matter, but if we are allowed to stand during moments of extreme excitement (when we are most in danger of losing control) then why not at any other time when we are definitely in control? It doesnít make any sense.

But there is one more issue which could have far reaching effects, and that is the financial one. As I understand it, the gate receipts from a Cup tie are split 55 percent to 45 percent, with the lower amount going to the away team. It can be argued that with the influence the local authority are exerting on the tie, by their recommendation of a reduced allocation, they could possibly be influencing Unitedís potential earnings. If we get knocked out by Middlesboro, United would potentially lose millions - not only because they wouldnít progress in the competition, but also because a possible avenue into Europe would be lost. Now, say we suffer another dip in form and fail to get into the Champions League and have also been knocked out of the FA Cup by Middlesboro, that potential loss of revenue would be enormous. But it would not only be enormous to Manchester United, it would be enormous to every other team in Europe who would have had the chance of playing United. What a can of worms.

Red Kelly

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