By Tony Attwood
In the run up to the Tottenham game in the FA Cup I made the point that the game was not sold out – on the basis that I had offered my season ticket seat for sale via the club’s official ticket exchange, and had no takers.
OK, that was one example of a seat that was available for sale, but no one bought it, but the subsequent official figure of tickets sold (which included mine as sold, as it was sold to me as a season ticket holder) showed the full compliment was not taken up.
In response a number of Tottenham fans came on this site and commented that it was Arsenal’s own fault – they should have made more seats available to Tottenham supporters.
That wouldn’t have solved the problem of my seat, but it did lead to a clarification of the number of seats available to Tottenham fans, and it highlighted the issue of pricing as well.
Tottenham’s allocation of seats for all Arsenal Tottenham games is significantly reduced on the orders of the police following a 2007 agreement between the police, FA and the two clubs. For Cup matches that reduce Tottenham’s share to 8.1% because of fears of crowd trouble and safety issues.
Now the issue of unsold tickets for a Tottenham match reminded me of an earlier game on 9 January 2008 when in the league cup semi-final the result was Arsenal 1 Tottenham 1, and the game was played in front of just 53,136 – a very low crowd by Emirates standards.
So what’s going wrong? Are these two events just blips or is there a reason why some Arsenal fans will not come along to Tottenham games?
When you think of it there are several reasons why the tickets might not sell out for a Tottenham match.
First, the matches are invariably on TV, so you can watch them at home, or in a pub.
Second, in the case of the League Cup, Arsenal are known on occasion to play weakened sides while Tottenham does not.
Third, to call the atmosphere toxic is a gross understatement. The violence towards the ambulance crews and Theo Walcott at the last match is still being considered by the authorities, but it was far from pleasant. Of course such issues don’t affect me in the stadium, when I am there (which is almost every match) but it does lead to issues outside the ground. Of course the vast majority of Tottenham fans are reasonable people who support their club by pure chance, just as I support Arsenal because that was my parents’ club and all my grandparents’ club. But I don’t include those who were throwing stuff as reasonable. (And in case the issue of Theo’s signal of the score is brought up, saying that that is an excuse is about as sensible as saying that Sol Campbell’s move to Arsenal was an excuse for his treatment by Tottenham fans at the infamous Portsmouth Tottenham match. It simply isn’t an excuse in the world I inhabit.)
Fourth, the cost. Arsenal rank games as A, B or C matches, and adjust the price accordingly, and there is no doubt that A games are expensive. The issue with Cup games however is that Arsenal generally downgrade these by one level if they can get an agreement with the opposition. But it appears that when the opposition is Tottenham, they simply will not agree, so no matter what the competition, the game is expensive, even sometimes in the League Cup.
Fifth, it was the FA Cup. Arsenal attracted 59,476, which meant there were around 900 seats unsold, plus those season ticket holders like me who didn’t go. Very few spaces I agree – but it was against Tottenham.
Elsewhere the old days of smaller clubs selling out to see a game against the big boys look to have long since gone.
Blackburn Rovers v Man City got only 18,000. Southampton got 15,000 for their tie. Only 14,000 went to Nottm Forest to see them slaughter Premier League WHU.
Not every match was down, but there were enough to suggest the old notion of the magic of the cup has been destroyed.
And it has been destroyed by several things. In our case by the toxic atmosphere. I went to my first Arsenal Tottenham game in the late 1960s and my first Tottenham Arsenal affair in the 70s, and none of the games I saw at that time had the same level of hatred as there is now. And this was the era of Arsenal fans taking the shelf and so on… It was rivalry and indeed fighting, but somehow the overall level between the fans who were not in the tiny minority of fighters, was different. We let the fighters fight, that is true, but the rest of us somehow retained our humanity.
And destroyed also by the inane kick off times. I didn’t go to the Tottenham game because of the kick off time. It takes me about three and a half hours to get home once the whistle has gone, and with the 5.30 kick off that would have ruined not just my afternoon getting to the game, but my saturday night coming home, a saturday night for which I had made other arrangements. It may seem a bit feeble, but at my advanced age I enjoy both Saturday afternoon and evening, and a 3pm kick off allows me to get some entertainment on both.
Indeed I’ve heard Coventry fans protesting about their visit for the next round which is to be held on a Friday night because of the lack of return trains. Fancy a ticket to see the Arsenal first team? There’s going to be a lot available for that game.
Destroyed also by the bizarre TV commentators who are paid to talk up the FA Cup as if it still really mattered. Everyone knows that it is third best to winning the League and Champions League, or in Wigan’s case last year, second best to staying in the Premier League.
The fact that whatever TV companies are showing the games and shouting up the magic of the cup, those of us who watch football know it is a highly degraded competition, and as such should be marginalised in terms of fixture priorities. OK if you want the little boys to talk about it as if it matters, you can let them, but by moving fixtures to any old time to suit TV without any awareness of the fans, shows the utter contempt with which fans are held by the FA and the TV stations.
This of course is a separate issue from that of the toxic nature of the Arsenal Tottenham games, which are getting horrible no matter what competition they are in. But put the two together, and you get a serious disinterest in Tottenham and Arsenal meeting in the cup.
I’m hopeful that the number of away tickets available for future Tottenham games at the Ems is reduced further, and the steward and police presence greatly improved so that the chance to throw bottles and coins is reduced. In the same way I am hopeful that policing of European games and Everton games is improved so that we can actually have an avoidance of flares in the ground.
I don’t want to sanitise football, but I do think that the hatred level has gone too far, just as I think the sale of the FA Cup to TV which allows games to be played any old time, irrespective of those who like to go to games, has also gone too far.
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