The ticket row that won’t go away

Throughout the Premier League, season ticket increases continues to rattle a few more cages, with West Ham’s renewal deadline next week.

With new head coach Julen Lopetegui installed and enthusiasm for a change of footballing direction now David Moyes has gone, I fully expect there to be a high take up, which will no doubt enthuse the money men at the London Stadium.

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The club still have a waiting list and any drop-outs will soon be snapped up, and that will be all the club care about despite the initial anger at price rises and changes to concessions for kids and old timers. There will be more than 63,000 sell-outs, so that’s all right then.

But is it? There is still a bad taste in the mouth about the changes, with our collection of fans groups - Hammer United, Old School Hammers, the Trust and the Independent supporters committee - all having had their say and got nowhere. The stubbornness and refusal to consult properly or even consider the issues has left fans groups very frustrated.

We are not alone. Wolves are the latest to enrage their fans with a 17 per cent increase and some tickets for kids up by 150 per cent. You can imagine the annoyance in the Black Country where Wolverhampton has the second highest unemployment rate in the country.

Crystal Palace have not raised their prices and Arsenal have changed their stance after consulting with fans, but Brentford, Brighton, Everton, Liverpool, both Manchester clubs, Tottenham and our good selves have more than upset their fans with prices hikes.

Kevin Maguire, the football financial expert, says: "Business will say if you sell out at a certain price, then it’s too cheap. Whether this is the right thing to do in the national sport is a different question. If you believe in the idea that football is the opera of the working class, then absolutely it is not."

Certainly our good friends at Hammers United do not think this is right, in particular the changes to concessions, kids and old folk.

But they, along with other fans groups, are banging their heads against a brick wall. Complaints have been dismissed, sometimes curtly and arrogantly as "this is policy and we won’t change". There’s been a meeting with the club’s new supporters liaison officer, Catherine Smith - and the response has been polite, at least.

But Hammers United are not giving up. New proposals were put to the Independent Supporters’ Committee (ISC) last week, endorsed, and sent to the club. Who say they will look at them.

Better communication and clearer information on the website ticketing page; an updated payment plan; a request for group relocation for families without loss of concessions, plus the ability to add youngsters to a group.

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All pretty reasonable, but don’t hold your breath. Sadly there seems to be fans’ apathy to protest here, basically if it doesn’t affect the majority (yet) then the silence has been deafening.

When Spurs fans reacted to concession changes, a major protest of supporters turning their backs at a match got national coverage. We could have done the same, there was a call to do the same at the London Stadium - but nothing. All very frustrating.

The excellent Football Supporters Association (FSA) have been on the case for a while, organising meetings. Their diligence and determination, much like our own fans’ groups, has been creditable.

But West Ham, like most clubs, don’t seem to care about the punitive, sometimes callous, introduction of price changes for the most vulnerable of our fans.

West Ham’s rise is between six per cent and 14 per cent, with a current rate of inflating around two per cent now. Some kids' tickets have soared. But it’s the changes to concessions for the elderly, and how new rules are being administered, that has ruffled more than a few feathers. Including mine. I’m 75 now and been doing this since 1958.

You try to keep your head down at this club, it doesn’t pay to get above the parapet so to speak. But on this I can see the beginning of the end. It’s almost as if they are waiting for the old folk to pass away so they can flog the tickets to tourists.

We are told the reasons for rises are to "continue to deliver on the field". I’ve never accepted that, it’s just an excuse for greed. Only 17 per cent of our income is from ticket sales.

A few years back, Karren Brady suggested clubs could be run without ticket price revenue because of the vast wealth flooding into Premier League clubs from TV. Over 60 per cent of revenue comes from that alone, and new deals worldwide coming on stream all the time.

But there’s always a twist from West Ham. There will be no new concession in bands 1-4, it’s 5-6 or nothing now. If you want a new concession, having reached 66, then it will be at the back of the stands behind the goals, in the gods, where elderly fans will face a ridiculous trudge up stairs after stairs to the upper tiers.

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There’s a better chance of seeing Middlesex - the old county border is the river Lea - than the far penalty area. And you will be there without your family and friends, left back in the 1-4 areas.

That’s what really angers Hammers United and the groups concerned about continuity of fans support, families of kids, parents and grandparents who sit together and maintain that traditional support.

But none of this seemed to provoke much annoyance from the rank and file. There’s even been an anti-pensioner attitude. One reaction near to me was "why should I pay twice what the old boy next to me pays? Pensioners are all rich these days".

The government don’t help, continually calling pensions a benefit, which they most certainly are not. They’ve been bought and paid for by folk during their working lives. Yes, a lot of (not all) pensioners are better off than their parents were, we live longer and are healthier. I only knew one of my four grandparents.

But this desperation to get their hands on the grey pound is unhelpful. There’s a grandparents union out there, we meet up at the school runs, or at swimming lessons, Tumble Tots (do you lot have that in the south?) or rhyme time at the local libraries. Ones that have not been shut, that is.

We all willingly, lovingly look after our grand kids. We feed them, entertain them and allow their parents to both go to work. The cost of living doesn’t get any easier. So our extra money goes to fund, in part, our grandkids' early lives. We’d much rather that than into the banks of mega-rich football clubs.

The ones who have multiple billionaires on their boards, who get chauffeured to their parking spots - got to have a few sherbets, of course - and then disappear to their mansions after matches? Don’t try to tell me you need the extra cash from a few pensioners.

But nothing will change unless the ordinary fans realise that this is greed. And if they tolerate this, then they will be next.

This row will not go away, Hammers United are planning for the future on this, so a bit of help from the rank and file would not go amiss.

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