Lucifer Sam

There’s just no let up is there? I foolishly assumed we’d witnessed the season’s nadir at the Etihad and the team would amble towards the finish line at their consistently inconsistent best. Unfortunately not. You really do have to marvel at the audacity of the players and their collective response to widespread criticism. Instead of trying to salvage something… anything, it appears they’ve downed tools completely. Actually no, scrub that. It seems they’ve put the tools back in the shed, locked it and disappeared off on holiday a month early. Chance of top four and Champions League next season? No? Europa Conference it is then. Fair enough then, lads – see you in August.

Some of the performances recently have been utterly pathetic. I got in early at Everton and witnessed the warm up; seriously, you see a greater level of intensity on Sunday at your local park. I’m pretty immune to results at this stage, they stopped stinging a few years ago when half-arsed mediocrity became the norm. Everyone knows the script by now. As a fanbase we’ve become resigned to the team’s complacency and an almost routine lack of effort. Nobody takes any responsibility and half of them don’t even look bothered. So many of these players… it’s incredible how they’ve got away with it for so long and continue to do so. They’re absolutely shameless.

Given the utter slop being served up on the pitch, the club should be thankful that people are still bothering to turn up in huge numbers. Home games continue to sell out and any dissenting voices remain in the minority. There have been a few instances of players being jeered recently but the OT crowd, buoyed by a noisy singing section and never ending hordes of awestruck day trippers, remains overwhelming positive in spite of the miserable football. I’ve never known so many spares floating about for home games though. Just from my own perspective, plenty of folk seem content to give the game a miss these days as many regulars aren’t there every game like they used to be.

Away games remain the place where the hardcore congregate and day trippers tend to stand out like a sore thumb. The club could suffer successive relegations and these would still be sold out with the same faces there who have been attending games for decades. This situation isn’t unique to United, it’s how all football clubs function for the most part. Some people treat it like a hobby (like the family behind me recently thrilled to have seen “the GOAT” in the flesh) whereas to others it’s their calling in life. My own position on this is I now regard watching United as both a curse and something that still just about motivates me to leave the house on occasion.

Most other football clubs have a healthy respect for their hardcore support. I mean, this is only logical, isn’t it? Businesses tend to engage with their loyal customers, they cherish them and they embrace them. Football supporters demonstrate brand loyalty to extreme levels, regardless of their teams’ fluctuating form or performance level. United’s away loyalty pot is representative of this, a group that’s been around since 2004 when the club announced its existence – members had to have applied for every game in the first half of that season. Initially comprising of around 1,300 people, this group now numbers around 500 so everyone left in is pretty much guaranteed an away ticket these days.

With demand exceeding supply dramatically, access to away tickets is limited for the vast majority of people. This makes United a very attractive proposition for ticket touts. These aren’t the fellas in sheepskin coats and stonewashed jeans stood outside turnstiles back in the 80’s, instead it’s gone digital with faceless accounts offering tickets via DM on social media. Not quite sure who’s buying them as the prices being quoted via screenshots I’ve seen are truly laughable. £400 for Leeds, anyone? Quite rightly, the club has made some noises in recent months about wanting to investigate this practice. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their methods in going about this task appear to have an ulterior motive as well as proving wholly ineffective.

It should be a pretty simple process, really. If you want to identify the source of a ticket being offered at inflated prices, it would make sense to pose as a prospective buyer and purchase it. That way you have the ticket in hand meaning you have confirmation of both the re-seller’s identity and the person who supplied it in the first place. Unfortunately, this kind of simple logic appears to be beyond the ticket office. Instead of seeking out touts themselves, it’s being used as an opportunity to inconvenience long-term supporters with ID checks required at away grounds. More specifically, loyalty pot members appear to be the main focus of their investigation.

It’s probably very true that not every loyalty pot member attends every game themselves, I don’t think anyone could seriously claim otherwise. What I would argue though, is that the loyalty pot isn’t the source of any tickets being sold on for profit. United supporters are a close-knit community and the unwritten code of conduct dictates that tickets are passed on to fellow reds at face value. This is why you see the same faces week-in, week-out at away games. The people there aren’t paying over the odds, they are there because they are being sorted out by friends who they’ve known for years.

I suspect that the club’s failure to target individual touts is down to the fact that such enquiries might uncover some unpalatable truths. A sizeable number of tickets are passed on to players and sponsors every game, are we supposed to accept that there’s no chance whatsoever this isn’t the source of tickets ending up on the black market? From my point of view, anecdotally at least, I would strongly argue that this is indeed the case. There are obviously going to be exceptions, but I don’t know of any season ticket holder successful in a ballot whose first instinct is to sell on for profit. I could however, cite the countless times I’ve seen tickets passed around at face value – a practice that happens at every single game and has done forever.

Under the pretence of eradicating touts, what we’re really seeing is an attempt to break up United’s traditional hardcore by jeopardising their access to tickets. United’s away support remains far removed from the Disneyfied fan experience™ that’s on offer at Old Trafford. It must be intimidating for groups of sponsors clad in matching tracksuits when confronted by groups of feral pisscans blocking the aisles, singing loudly and oblivious to the concept of designated seat numbers. Despite claims to the contrary, that’s the real motivation behind these ticket collections. They want to make things as difficult as possible for the group of supporters who’ll turn up despite the quality of football on offer. As has been noted once or twice already this season, the club is rotten from top to bottom.

Copyright Red News – April 2022

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