New Wembley scores FA Cup final own goals

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2007, 12:00am


You would think the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley - between two top clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea - would be cause for celebration. After all, it had been seven years since the final was last played at the stadium.

Not so - fans are up in arms, promising a turnstile revolt over seat prices, club ticket allocations and the cost of food and memorabilia. Chelsea and Manchester United fans handed out 20,000 fliers at their last home league games, urging a boycott of food - GBP8.50 (HK$130) for burger, chips and a soft drink - and programmes, which cost GBP10.

Add to the mix the fact that both clubs got only 25,000 tickets each, with most priced at more than GBP75 - half United's allocation cost GBP80 or GBP95 - and you understand the growing chorus in English football that claims ordinary fans are being priced out of the game.

'Wembley is desperate to claw back the construction costs and it's doing so by ripping off what they see as the mug punters,' says Steven Powell, head of development at the independent Football Supporters Association. 'They think fans will pay whatever it costs, so they charge the earth. It costs GBP4 for a pie, on its own - I'd rather go hungry.'

Powell says a United v Chelsea final could sell 150,000 to 200,000 tickets, yet the clubs got just over half the 90,000 capacity.

'OK, 14,000 tickets have been permanently sold to corporate sponsors and members on licences, but where's the other 26,000 gone? They've gone to what the FA calls 'the football family'. We all know that means touts.

'The corporate types and FA people are mostly uninterested in the match, they want the money. We have traced where the touted tickets come from at big games and they are nearly always from corporate seats or 'the FA family'.'

The FA defended its decision to give only 50,000 tickets to the clubs, saying the match did not only belong to the finalists.

'The football-family tickets don't only go to sponsors and commercial partners,' a spokesman said. 'They go to clubs and counties and people who work in the game, without whom the whole thing would collapse. These are football people and it is unlikely they are the source of the tickets on the black market.

'But if anyone who receives a ticket through the football-family allocation is found to have sold them on, they will never get another ticket again.'

A cursory look at eBay on Friday showed a handful of black market tickets left. The starting bid for two at the Chelsea end, with a face value of GBP60 each, was GBP550 for the pair. Newspaper reports suggested tickets were going for up to GBP2,500 each.

Wembley could do without yet more own goals. Construction of the English national stadium was beset by contractual disputes and huge spending overruns, which could push the bill to GBP1 billion.

Up to 10,000 seats were thrown away after the red plastic turned pink in the sun, while at last week's rugby league final, fans got wet from a leaking roof and had to be moved.

On Thursday, it emerged that executive licence holders - who spent GBP10,000 for 10 years of guaranteed tickets - could not get final tickets. Wembley issued an embarrassing apology for not sending out up to 400 tickets on time. Instead, they were couriered out or were picked up at the gate, hardly a corporate solution.