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Independent Manchester United Supporters Association

European away match travel by Manchester United supporters

A report by Ray Eckersley
IMUSA Vice Chair and Committee member for European Travel
31stAugust 1999

Introduction

The 1998/99 football season has been like no other season for Manchester United fans. A third domestic double, achieved for the first time by any English club, followed by the final phase of an unprecedented treble in Barcelona against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League cup final which gave us our second European Cup after a thirty-one year wait.

The last few weeks of the season were absolutely breathtaking.

Earlier in the season IMUSA had beaten off the challenge of Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB consequently as an organisation we can hopefully look forward to the future with added confidence and increased respect from others within football.

However, once we fans set foot in Europe, sadly things are not so good!

We have come a long way from our re-entry, after the Heysel ban, back into Europe in 1991, when all travel was tightly controlled by the club, and it must be said quite rightly so at that time.

Our travels during the 1998/99 season have demonstrated forcibly that a lot of work remains to be done to make European away match travel safer, easier, cheaper and more convenient.

Manchester United fans have shown throughout the nineties, that we are generally well behaved and responsible people and represent our club with pride and an understanding of the responsibilities that come with the freedoms this report suggests. Only two arrests in Barcelona out of approximately fifty thousand Manchester United fans bears testimony, we should be listened to and we should be trusted.

This report will highlight issues and suggest ideas and solutions based on our vast experience as travelling fans following Manchester United throughout Europe. It is intended to be proactive and constructive and not critical to any organisation in particular.

Ticketing

Manchester United fans consistently travel in large numbers to European away games, although the points raised in this report are relevant to all supporters whichever club and country they come from. Larger and fairer allocations, a corruption free and more transparent system of distribution as well as sensible pricing are the three main topics which underpin this report.

UEFA and competing clubs should implement a new system of ticket allocation so that each club and its supporters know exactly where they stand before each game, and consequently this will eradicate all discussions, debates, arguments and even acrimony and animosity between fans, clubs and UEFA.

IMUSA believe a number of criteria could be used in this proposed new system, such as, average attendances in domestic and/or European matches of both the home and away teams, ground capacity and, most importantly, historic and current demand from the fans.

IMUSA believe the English FA Cup model of away supporters ticket allocation, whereby visiting teams are allocated a percentage of the ground capacity taking into account safety, segregation and policing could be used by UEFA as a starting point.

It is quite clearly in everyone's interest that away match ticket allocations largely satisfies demand as this will lead to greater crowd control, improved safety and security and less "black-market" activity.

IMUSA recognises and appreciates attempts made by all at Manchester United Football Club to improve arrangements for European away fixtures drawing directly on experiences gained in recent seasons yet their refusal to sit down and discuss arrangements with supporters properly means further opportunities for improvement are missed.

During season 1998/99 Manchester United Football Club did not announce the criteria upon which the ticket allocations would be distributed until after the previous round. We had the ludicrous situation of match going fans not knowing if they would get a ticket, based on which games they had or not been able to attend. For example, first priority for tickets for the final in Barcelona was given to fans who attended one game, the quarter final in Milan. Previously priority had been given to fans attending the previous European away match, as was the case for the semi-final in Turin. There were some fans who attended all the European away games except the Milan game and so consequently had to find some other way of acquiring a ticket for Barcelona.

IMUSA believe the criteria for European away match ticket distribution by Manchester United should be announced before the start of the competition and should be consistently adhered to throughout the season.

Manchester United should completely review these criteria and IMUSA would like to see a new system operated open and fairly.

When the tickets have been allocated to fans it should be up to the individual supporters to decide how they travel to the match. Manchester United FC should then compete openly with other travel companies offering transport and/or accommodation packages to the games, as is the case with domestic away match arrangements at present.

IMUSA see no reason to differentiate, in any way, between a match in Turin and a match in Southampton. In fact, apart from the cost, the match in Turin is easier and quicker to get to. In todays free market economy of the European Community and the ease with which people can travel throughout Europe, this system is the only legitimate alternative to the present one of a cartel of Manchester United FC and Miss Ellies operating a dictatorial, expensive and restrictive monopoly on travel.

Ticket prices have a large influence on the European away match going fans ability to attend games in Europe. The 98/99 season saw a price of £56.00 for Juventus away which was £14.00 the previous season. Even taking into account that it was a semi-final as opposed to a group game a price of £56.00 is totally unjustifiable and unacceptable to fans and creates anger and animosity as well as "the ability to pay" syndrome becoming more of a part of the criteria for attending games than it should be.

UEFA should legislate quickly and decisively to control and stop the massive variations in ticket pricing which particularly discriminates against fans of clubs like Manchester United with a larger than average European away match following. Some European clubs obviously see an opportunity to make excessive profits from our larger than average following!

UEFA should also, as a matter of high priority, consider the long term effects of high ticket prices generally with special regards to attracting the young and not so affluent members of our European society to football. They are vital to the long term future and health of our great game.

UEFA should make the draws as soon as possible giving fans and clubs much more time to make arrangements for ticket distribution and travel. Under the present allocation system UEFA should ask clubs prior to the competition commencing to notify them of the number of tickets that will be available for travelling supporters. Such notification would end the frantic and sometimes acrimonious negotiations between clubs immediately before a fixture when extra tickets are needed/requested and allow competing clubs and fans to plan their own ticket distribution systems and travel arrangements in advance of a game.

Manchester United FC should speed up considerably the allocation of tickets for European away matches to give fans as much time as possible to arrange travel and accommodation. It is a fact that as soon as a draw is made for the next round of a cup competition supporters must make their travel, accommodation and, most importantly, domestic and work arrangements in order to attend the game. If fans waited for the announcement of ticket availability from the club this, at worst, is virtually impossible and, at best, very difficult given the sometimes very short time before a game when tickets are currently allocated to fans. If competing clubs made known the number of tickets that would be available before a competition commences then tickets could be allocated to fans earlier. This issue has now even greater importance given coming seasons never ending trend of enlargement of the UEFA Champions League with many more fixtures and even tighter schedules from almost the beginning of the season.

Policing

Inter Milan versus Manchester United, March 1999, UEFA Champions League quarter final, 2nd leg at the San Siro stadium in Milan. After this game IMUSA contacted UEFA with evidence in the form of eyewitness accounts from individuals, the press and media and IMUSA officials, detailing serious problems that occurred mainly prior to the game as fans tried to enter the stadium. There was crushing instigating panic within the crowd and amazingly within the Police whose only reaction, as we have seen many times before, was to scream orders in Italian and brutally attack Manchester United fans. There was no English language stewarding, no help only provocation from the Italian Police and no sign of either Manchester United or Inter Milan club stewards or officials.

The response from UEFA and Inter Milan was that the ground is owned by the local authority and consequently not their responsibility and out of their control.

In Barcelona for the final we have eyewitness and video evidence of Police ineptitude and brutality. Football fans are not some form of third class citizen and should not be treated this way in European society. They should be treated with the respect and courtesy they deserve by right.

These examples join a long list of matches in Europe where Manchester United fans have been subjected to badly organised, uncaring, discriminatory and brutal and vindictive Police forces - Montpellier, Gallatasaray, Porto, Juventus, Feyenord, Milan, Barcelona the list gets longer each season.

It is simply not acceptable for UEFA to wash their hands of the problem as they did recently after the Milan game highlighted above.

UEFA have to impose their power on the clubs in the interests of decency and justice and more importantly in the interests of the safety and security of supporters, before someone gets seriously injured or even killed. Our game of football is littered with disasters, Heysel and Hillsborough are recent tragic examples, and unless attitudes of the footballing authorities change it will happen again!

After Heysel and Hillsborough we have the luxury of hindsight but sadly that hindsight is not being used by the decision makers within European football.

Given the example at the beginning of this section of the Inter Milan v. Manchester United game and after the evidence had been collected UEFA should have informed Inter Milan that if the same type of incidents occur again, as they will if nothing is done, they would not be allowed into the competition again until Inter Milan had 'their' Policing in order. Given this serious threat Inter Milan would no doubt pressurise the local authority in Milan whose responsibility the Policing is.

Consequently there would be extreme pressure from the Milanese public on the Milan local authority to solve the problem.

This is one example of the power that can be exercised by UEFA to make games safer for football fans. To do this UEFA first have to have the will to do it. IMUSA calls upon all the relevant authorities in English football including the Government, the FA, the English Police and all the supporters organisations to gather together to exert pressure on UEFA to gain the will to change the way football fans are treated in Europe.

Stewarding

English language stewarding and announcements are virtually non-existent at many grounds in Europe when Manchester United are the visitors.

There should be more signs and leaflets, bilingual stewarding, megaphones giving messages and directions clearly in both languages concerned and information points in the town centres where fans congregate as well as close to and inside the ground. These measures would help to reduce the confusion, risks and dangers Manchester United fans find repeatedly in Europe.

Sadly we need a dramatic change in attitudes from all the relevant authorities within European football to make these inexpensive small but significant and yet common sense changes happen. But happen they must.

IMUSA believes that many of the problems that arise in and around grounds in Europe can be easily alleviated with better co-operation and communications between UEFA, the clubs, the local Police and authorities and, most importantly the fans.

Conclusion

The virtually complete inability to listen to and act upon the opinions and experiences of European away match going Manchester United fans by UEFA, governments, the FA, Manchester United FC and the local authorities and Police is the reason for this report. Manchester United fans are continually put in grave danger in and around the stadiums of Europe, none more so than at our greatest ever night recently in Barcelona when fans were subject to brutal tactics of the police and stadium authorities. Save for the patience and fair-mindedness of the vast majority of supporters there could well have been a serious incident.

In the future IMUSA urge all parties concerned to contact and include IMUSA officials in all discussions and decision making processes regarding all games involving Manchester United in European competitions. Following IMUSA's earlier reports into problems in previous seasons there have been some improvements. Notably announcements are now made in English at Italian stadiums allowing for better crowd control. In addition Manchester United FC no longer restrict ticket sales quite so tightly following IMUSA's reference to Trading Standards; though there is still room for improvement, this can only be achieved with greater co-operation, using the experience of fans who travel regularly to away fixtures in Europe. If this experience was used more widely it would be to everyone's benefit, there is no logical reason or explanation given for the intransigence demonstrated over the years, only a prejudice against IMUSA and other fans' groups which if allowed to continue will inevitably lead to more serious problems in the future. It is not just the good name of British fans or Manchester United we seek to protect but the safety and comfort of those same supporters.

We have the experience, PLEASE use it.