Should late postponements earn fans travel refund?

Football used to be a winter sport. It brought to mind images of freezing footballers hoofing an orange ball around a frozen pitch and fans keeping warm with their brand new Christmas scarf and gloves.

Nowadays however, with scores of games called off across the UK, winter football seems to revolve around postponed games and miserable treks home. But are all these last-minute postponements absolutely necessary? It’s not just fans who are asking the question.

Notts County chief executive Jim Rodwell was furious his club’s Friday evening game at Brighton was called off an hour before kick-off despite previous assurances it would go ahead. “My heart goes out to the fans,” said Rodwell. “This doesn't have to happen. A decision should have been made. If the game was in doubt at 2pm, call it off.”

With many away fans already en route or even at the ground by the time games are being cancelled, frustration is growing. Thousands are losing time and money as travel has to be rearranged and extra days off work booked.

FSF chair Malcolm Clarke travelled from Manchester to London for Saturday’s Arsenal v Stoke clash, only to hear the game was called off at lunchtime as he was about to arrive at the Emirates. Rail tickets had cost him and his daughter £109 and they endured an 11-hour round trip without seeing a ball kicked.

“I've sympathy for clubs but it's the fans, particularly those of the away team, who suffer the most. We've heard tales from followers of many clubs who had battled through the blizzards and travelled hundreds of miles to games, only to arrive at a ground and be told the game was off,” said Malcolm.

“I would like to see the Premier League clubs with a bit of money offer their away fans in these situations compensation in the form of free or subsidised travel to the rearranged fixture.”

While calls for compensation – whether it be through subsidised travel or any other means – might be met with scepticism by some, there are clubs who have taken it upon themselves to do just that and credit to them.

Derby County, for example, offered a full match ticket refund to any fan unable to make Saturday’s fixture with Reading because of the conditions. With snow causing major disruptions many Royals’ fans were unable to make it – so well done Derby for offering both sets of supporters a refund. Especially when some of the away fans’ tales resembled an outtake from Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Reading fans Jamie Harden, Dave Harris, and Mark Sugar explain: “We left Reading at 8.45am, then down the A4 at 20mph until the ever intensifying snowfall forced us to catch the train from Didcot.  We got into Oxford, ready for our connection. Finally a heavily delayed Manchester Piccadilly train arrived - the choice was that one to Birmingham New Street, or two trains to Derby. Happy days.

“However, a points failure meant we could only go straight on to Warwick and more delays followed at New Street although we eventually got into Derby at 1458. Fortunately for us, Richard, a Derby fan in the carriage, heard about our day and gave us a lift straight to the ground. We jumped out of his motor, ran to the away end and got in to see Derby hit the post on three minutes.”

Not all fans were so lucky – coaches organised by the Supporters’ Trust At Reading (STAR) had to turn back on the M40 only to get stuck in another traffic jam caused by a jack-knifed lorry. It took a very long three hours to creep by the stuck truck.

The efforts of many fans to get to away games is nothing short of magnificent. The FSF understands clubs often don’t want to see games called off – it’s local authorities, quangos, and police who wield the axe.

But wouldn’t it be a lovely Christmas present if the football industry recognised the trials and tribulations of the away fan and offered some sort of travel recompense for postponed games?

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