Dear FA - please stand with fans and protect away allocation

FA Cup2

The decision of Arsenal's Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to refuse full away allocations for the club's home FA Cup games caused a great deal of anger from travelling supporters. Groups such as the Blue Union, Spirit of Shankly, and Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust have been very vocal in their criticism and the general principle is spot on - away fans should be given full allocations unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.

In the FA Cup's case this should equate to 9,000 tickets at the Emirates but Arsenal have consistently handed out 4,000 less. This isn't an anti-Arsenal issue, we back Gooners' rights to full allocations at FA Cup games too, but this particular example does highlight the issue. SAGs make decisions that matter to thousands, yet they do so behind closed doors with minimal input from fans.

As a result fans get angry and turn on clubs or the FA for failing to stand firm and protect their own competition rules which state that away clubs "have the right to claim for up to 15% of all accommodation". SAGs should open up, liaise with supporters, and treat fans groups as part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

The FA should stand together with fans on this issue rather than allow itself to be caught in the crossfire. There's a shared interest after all. Supporters want to be able to follow their team while the FA wish to retain the magic of the Cup. What better way to do this than ensure fans travel in huge numbers to create a special atmosphere? 

Read the letter below from Football Supporters' Federation Chair Malcolm Clarke, to FA General Secretary Alex Horne, which outlines this in full. The letter was co-signed by FSF affiliated fans' groups at Everton, Liverpool, and Spurs who lost out on tickets at the Emirates this season...

Alex Horne
General Secretary
The Football Association
Wembley Stadium
PO Box 1966
London
SW1P 9EQ

26th February 2014

Dear Alex,

FA Challenge Cup – Visitors’ Ticket Allocations

We are writing to you jointly as the national supporters’ federation and a group of concerned club-based supporters’ groups regarding the cutting of visiting supporters’ ticket allocations, apparently at the insistence of police and local authority safety advisory groups.

This practice, as ever undertaken with no consultation with supporters, has been highlighted again this season by three Arsenal home ties in the Third, Fifth and Sixth Rounds against, respectively, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton. In each case the visitors have been restricted to an allocation of just over 5,100 tickets, considerably below that required by the competition rules of the FA Cup.

Regulation 21(a) states that, “the Visiting Club shall have the right to claim up to 15% of all accommodation for which tickets are issued providing these tickets are in a fully segregated area…..” We understand that in the case of the forthcoming Arsenal v Everton tie the visitors’ ticket allocation has been cut citing concerns about persistent standing and the use of pyrotechnics.

It is difficult to understand the justification for this. All the evidence is that such restrictions simply don’t work. It takes one person to smuggle in and ignite a pyrotechnic device and reducing the allocation does not remove this possibility. What it does is impose collective punishment on thousands of innocent supporters for the sins of – at the very most – a handful.

The FSF has willingly co-operated with information and education campaigns on the dangers of the uncontrolled use of pyrotechnics in football grounds. We do so because it is other supporters who are placed in danger. There is however no reason or evidence to support the conclusion that ticket allocation cuts work. If anything, completely the opposite is true. Such measures only further alienate supporters and encourage defiant behaviour from those most disposed to risky behaviour.

Turning to persistent standing, this issue is a complex topic which we do not explore in detail in this letter. We restrict ourselves to observing that ticket restrictions simply don’t work. We also ask what empirical evidence does the Islington Council Safety Advisory Group have that visiting supporters will stand persistently in the upper tier?

It is in the upper tier of the Clock End at the Emirates Stadium that some away supporters would be sited if they were to receive their full entitlement of 9,000 tickets. Having spoken to Arsenal supporters about visiting supporters in previous Cup ties we believe that there is no such evidence. In such circumstances the restrictions are unfair, disproportionate, and counter-productive.

It is most disappointing that the FA has not vigorously and publicly intervened on this matter to defend the rules of its own competition and assert the rights of the competing clubs and their supporters.

We support appropriate safety measures because football has shown indifference towards supporters in the past. However, there is a big difference between such a regime and the excessive measures being displayed here.

We request that the FA take concrete steps to defend the rules of its own competition and ensure that such disregard for the rights of away supporters, who are so vital to the special atmosphere at FA Cup games, comes to an end.

Yours sincerely,

MALCOLM CLARKE
CHAIR
FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS’ FEDERATION

Co-signed by FSF Affiliates/Associates:

  • Barrow-In-Furness Everton Supporters' Club
  • Blue Union (Everton)
  • Everton Supporters South Wales
  • Harrogate & District Everton Supporters' Club
  • Satis (Everton)
  • Spirit of Shankly (Liverpool)
  • Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust

UPDATE - In response to criticism from fans' groups and northwest MPs Andy Burnham and Steve Rotheram the FA released the following statement on 26th February:

"FA Cup rules allow for an away allocation of up to 15% of the home stadium.

"However this is subject to the local Safety Advisory Group (SAG) agreeing to that ticket allocation number.

"The SAG is made up of services such as the local council, police, fire brigade and the club amongst others and issues the stadium’s health and safety certificate.

"In regards to the Arsenal v Everton Sixth Round tie at the Emirates on Saturday 8 March, the local SAG has chosen to allocate just under 9% to the Everton supporters.

"Although we appreciate the disappointment in the SAG not granting the full 15% allocation, it is nearly double the amount of tickets that Everton would have received for the Premier League fixture at the Emirates back in December.

"The FA does not have any input into the decision of the SAG and cannot change it as this is a matter of health and safety."

Thanks to Action Images for the image used in this article.