Southampton fans have had a tough time of it lately. 2005’s relegation ended 27 years in the top-flight. It was followed by administration and relegation to League One. But things are looking up with a new (seriously rich) owner and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (JPT) final around the corner. They've sold their full 44,000 allocation but many will miss out as the Football League has refused to release more tickets to the club citing safety reasons, despite there being many more empty seats available inside Wembley.
Nick Illingsworth of Saints fanzine The Ugly Inside explains why he thinks it’s an awful decision for fans, sponsors, and even the FA’s World Cup bid:
If, as seems likely, Wembley refuse to give Saints any more tickets for the JPT Final the game could be played in front of around 22,000 empty seats. An estimated 10,000 of those could have been sold to Saints supporters. It is an absolute disgrace and a damning indictment of the football authorities on more than one level.
This is a crucial year for English football, it’s under scrutiny from Uefa for the financial status of many of its clubs and, of course, it’s lobbying Fifa hard for the right to host the 2018 World Cup. It needs as many good news stories as it can get. This year’s JPT was a good chance to show the world that English football is strong and that even League One clubs can pull in a virtual full house at Wembley.
Although this is a Football League tournament, it’s a reflection on the FA and Wembley too. The stadium cannot be filled due to poor planning on segregation. Although the demand is there, it just hasn’t been organised properly. Fifa won’t be impressed.
It doesn’t just stop there, next up is the tournament’s sponsors. Surely they want to have maximum exposure for all the right reasons on a tournament with their name on it? Traditionally it’s a poorly attended competition, apart from the final, and this was their chance to get some great publicity on a feel good story. How can clubs ask their fans to attend the early rounds when they might not be able to reward them with a place at Wembley?
Next is Wembley. In this day and age of modern stadia, surely it’s a major design fault when a stadium completed only three years ago cannot fill a quarter of its capacity due to its inability to segregate. Surely the planners would have looked at this and designed it in such a way that each section could be isolated, this is not unreasonable given modern planning.
The excuse given is that the concourses cannot be segregated, again I find this strange. If Saints can put up a steel fence in the car park at Saint Mary’s to keep Saints and Pompey fans apart then surely temporary arrangements can be erected at Wembley? After all, this is not so much a competitive game, but a day out for supporters of both teams.
For the FA Cup final each side receives only 25,000 tickets and they are the only areas segregated. 40,000 fans watch a cup final in areas that are not segregated, so what is the problem here?
The real losers will be the youngsters, extra tickets would enable a lot more kids to go to the game and enjoy the occasion. Surely that has to be a priority in football at the moment at a time when gates are dropping and children have a lot more distractions from football.
Carlisle themselves would be grateful for the extra income brought in, with each club getting 45 per cent of the ticket revenue. An extra 10,000 on the gate at an average of £25 a head, could bring each club an extra £110,000. Not an insignificant amount.
I would hope that behind the scenes there is a flurry of activity, that the Football League and Wembley are desperately trying to find ways to give Saints at least some extra tickets. But, call me cynical if you want, after nearly 40 years of watching Saints I have rarely found that those in charge actually put themselves out and go that extra mile in order to help the ordinary football fan.