After ticket cap win, join your fan group

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Presumably, you saw the news about the Premier League introducing a £30 cap for away tickets from next season. FSF national council and Spirit of Shankly (SOS) committee member Roy Bentham looks back at the months of campaigning that led up to the decision...

I got a phone call out of the blue from fellow Spirit of Shankly committee member Kieth Culvin on Wednesday around 1pm.

He was very animated which wasn't like him. I tried to calm him down as he was  very rarely ruffled and in most ways reserved. Keith was the steadying hand as vice chair of the Liverpool Supporters' Union and most respected for his work within the ticketing working group which had been in consultations with Fenway Sports Group on prices and accessibility up until last month.

The upshot of his excited tones was we'd won an important victory for all supporters on away ticket prices. £30 maximum across the board he kept telling me in a fabulously jovial voice.

The penny belatedly dropped. It dawned on me that the hard work we'd all put in had got us our first major result nationally.

I felt as elated as my fellow SOS brother for a brief moment and duly punched the air. After that initial joy had subsided, I instantly thought of home tickets being too expensive and this would now be pushed firmly to the top of the agenda.

I told Keith this instinctively. That thought really enthused me too.  We both then laughed again as the enormity of what he was telling me sunk in.

Later that afternoon I was due to speak at the Merseyside Pensioners Association with Dave Kelly of the Blue Union on the ticket campaign and the 77 minute walkout which was undoubtedly the straw that broke the camels back in the lead up to this ground breaking Premier League announcement.

We also spoke of fan activism in general including the joint initiatives on the food banks and our trip to engage our cousins in Germany at a hugely successful Football Supporters Europe Conference in Belfast last summer.

It was very humbling telling our peers of our successes and the rest of the day and evening seen us both do various other media on this historic day for fans all over the country.

The feeling in all of those interviews was why stop here when the war on greed in the beautiful game still needs to be fought?

Rewinding back over not just the last couple of weeks but also these last few years aswell, it's only now I can reflect on what has been a real roller coaster of a ride.

We at Spirit of Shankly were primed for this battle from the outset. We'd got ourselves organised back in 2009 and fought greedy custodians of our club and won convincingly. We had people who knew how to get the job done who were ably abetted by the thousands of willing foot soldiers in SOS.

In the short term and that walkout was one which fell into our laps perfectly. It couldn't of been timed any better for me.

When FSG announced the £77 tickets I seen an own goal of catastrophic proportions and a PR disaster for the hierarchies of all the Premier League clubs in general.

With the announcement of the TV rights carve up imminent, there was a groundswell of anger and we knew to harness that energy we had to pull off something major at Liverpool.

The SpionKop 1906 who had already withdrew their outstanding array of banners and flags in previous games at Anfield in protest over prices and other fan related issues along with my union SOS grasped the nettle.

After the reported 10-15,000 exodus at that Sunderland match at Anfield, I instinctively knew all focus would now be on that gargantuan amount of £8.3 billion from the TV companies both here and abroad.

We couldn't of scripted it any better ourselves. The stars were aligning and the authorities would be caught in the "perfect storm"

The hard yards had already previously been put in. From numerous public meetings from 2012 both locally and nationally to the lobbying of the politicians and Premier League senior officials thereafter, this was very much a national campaign going into overdrive.

There were joint demonstrations with the iconic £noughis£nough and "football without fans is nothing" flags in stadiums all across the country including Anfield, Goodison Park, the Emirates and the City of Manchester.

SpionKop 1906 had also displayed other numerous outstanding greed flags in grounds nationwide and the Liverpool Supporters Union also pulled off a boycott to Hull last season which raised the bar again. Both groups were working in unison.

To me the other eye catching moments of it all where the Premier League marches from Regents Park and Hyde Park respectively.

Never before had hundreds of fans joined under one banner and that extended to our colleagues down in the lower leagues too. They also attended the protest in their droves.

We staged a mass sit in at the Premier League headquarters at Gloucester Place on that first fixtures day demonstration on June 19th 2013 and after blocking Central London for what seemed a couple of hours, that's the point I knew we had a serious movement.

Spirit of Shankly had took a 51-seater coach which we put on free and though the mood was one of defiance with my good friend and fellow SOS stalwart Peter Hooton providing the PA system and various protest songs. There was a carnival atmosphere in the tropical temperatures too. One of celebration which screamed all the way into Richard Scudamore's office of "what unites us is greater than what divides us".

We had Arsenal & Tottenham's Trusts mixing freely and the Mancunians from both divides had also found common ground as well. Our Tyne & Wear comrades also came together for the common good on this most unique of days in football terms and post protest drinks were supped in a sun kissed Baker Street into the early evening.

This in itself was a most notable landmark in our ongoing collective efforts to unify the various groups.

I went away that day with my thinking cap on. Enthused by the camaraderie I knew we had to build on it. After a number of smaller meetings with my blue cousins across the park, we decided to go after the big fish. The sponsors.

These conglomerates were feeding the beast. Myself and fellow FSF national council member Dave Kelly were from solid trade union backgrounds and knew from our experiences in that field the damage we could inflict on those complicit with the boardroom fat cats was immeasurable. Leverage was a tactic we were both very familiar with.

We were to that end very lucky with our primary target, Barclays.

They would be the first in the firing line. Their banks where on every high street in every town. We organised a number of demonstrations at the main branch in Liverpool City Centre and handed a letter of concern in and the result of that is we were invited to meet their number two and number three (both executives in the banks chain of command) down in the City of London in early 2015.

After that initial discussion we invited them to Liverpool and a further meeting in the iconic Casa pub last summer. This after candid exchanges and hard negotiations was were we got them to agree with our position and a joint form of words was agreed in the subsequent press releases.

This was massive. The main sponsor of the Premier League had broken ranks and voiced its support for "Twentys plenty". In essence, we had also divided them.

I now knew it was only a matter of time before something major would give and that was last week on the 8th March at 1pm.  This day will be forever written into folk law of fan activism in this country. A real standout effort and one which I'd personally like to thank everyone who ever parcipitated in it.

As I speak, we are now planning the next chapter. The £noughis£nough banner will once again be dusted down and displayed in solidarity with our south coast cousins at the St Mary's stadium.

My overarching message is join your supporter trust , join your supporters union. We are as has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt and as listed most graphically above, definitely stronger together brothers and sisters.

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Thanks to Action Images for the picture used in this blog.