Shots in the dark

floodlights.jpg

If you’d travelled almost 200 miles to watch your side on Boxing Day and the game was abandoned mid-match due to floodlight failure you’d expect to get your money back, right? Wrong. It’s likely you’d receive no refund as hundreds of Southend United fans found out after their team’s game at Aldershot Town was called off. While this issue was brought to our attention by an incident at the Shots many other clubs have this policy too.

The Football Supporters’ Federation looked at a randomly selected sample of 13 customer charters in relation to match abandonment across the Premier League and Football League. The results don’t make for particularly fan-friendly reading.

Of the customer charters seen by the FSF eight had very similar conditions to Aldershot. The clubs promise reduced (usually half price) tickets for the rearranged fixture but no refund on an abandoned match whatsoever. If a game gets so far as the second-half many clubs, Aldershot included, might not even offer reduced tickets for the rearranged fixture. So fans could pay twice to see only one result.

A further four clubs make no mention whatsoever of their policy surrounding match abandonment and related ticketing issues. This is despite both the Premier League and Football League making clear that a club’s customer charter and ticketing policy should be clear on the issue. Only one of the sample customer charters – take a bow Scunthorpe United – say that discretion will be used on refunds for games abandoned mid-match.

It’s this lack of discretion at Aldershot which angered some fans. This wasn’t a game abandoned because of adverse weather conditions which the home side had no control over - the game was stopped because of an electrical fault with the floodlights. It shouldn't have happened. To add insult to injury Southend were winning 1-0 and Aldershot down to 10 men.

The rematch has been scheduled on Tuesday 31st January. This means many who attended the original Boxing Day fixture can’t make the midweek rematch for work or family reasons making a future reduction meaningless.

Southend fan Piers Hewitt said: “My whole party of six, including my wife and brother, spent more than £100 on a match that didn’t finish. While their gesture of a half-price ticket on attending the next fixture might suit some people it doesn’t suit any of us. We can ill-afford the time and money to do that on a Tuesday night when we all have families and jobs. It costs enough to follow your team without this.”

Fellow fan Dave Lambert added: “How can they get away with charging the fans again after we bought tickets to watch the same match which was called off as a result of their incompetence?”

Southend’s players even joined in with on-loan keeper Luke Daniels tweeting, “Incredible that Aldershot won't be refunding tickets. Surely the League needs to step in and sort it out.” Centre-back Mark Phillips tweeted that the decision was “scandelous” (sic).

The frustration of away fans was compounded when Shots’ chief executive Peter Duffy said that the club was aware of floodlight problems before kick-off. If the game had been abandoned at that point fans would’ve received a full refund. This is a point that wasn’t lost on Southend fans who contacted the FSF.

Amid this bad news some credit should go to Southend chairman Ron Martin. Last week he sent a cheque to Shrimpers supporters who purchased advance tickets for the original fixture. The amount enclosed totalled 50% of the cost for the rearranged match ticket. This means those who can attend get into that match without having to pay again (the other 50% already being covered by Aldershot).

While clubs – and we’re not just talking Aldershot here – might argue that the same rules apply to both sets of fans in reality that isn’t really the case. Many home fans will be season ticket holders who’ll get in the rearranged fixture free of charge. Neither will home fans have to bear the burden of substantial travel costs, time off work and so on.

When it comes to complaints the FSF hears from a disproportionately large number of away fans thanks to issues such as over-zealous stewarding and the local promotion rule. Despite being core to the game’s vitality the away fan is all too often way down the home club’s list of priorities. Yet the positive benefits away fans bring in terms of spectacle and atmosphere are undeniable, unquantifiable, and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

In an era when many games are only a mouse click away that mentality has to change if clubs hope to sustain current levels of away support.

Thanks to MinimalistPhotography101.com for the image.

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