Just The Ticket

In its current format, I believe The Checkatrade Trophy is a shambolic Cup competition.

Invited PL and Championship Academy sides, Group stage Penalty Shootouts and bonus points, overly complex rules governing qualifying players and disciplinary action, average attendances of merely a couple of thousand, and fan boycotts across the country.

I’ve personally not attended one fixture in this competition. Even at £3 a ticket I had no desire to shift my arse from the settee and go watch any of our ties. I did get a ticket for the match against the Mags U21 side but sacked it off on the afternoon of the game. Promotion is the sole aim this season, not this trophy.

So why was I stood nervously in a Manchester pub watching the Semi-Final against Bristol Rovers? Why was I jumping around, punching the air in delight when Will Grigg put us ahead in the first half? And why had I already booked a hotel for the Final way back in January?

Because I’m a hypocritical, fickle (and perhaps typical) football fan who loves a good weekend away.

Added to this was the opportunity to take my eldest lad to Wembley to watch our beloved Sunderland AFC, but the opportunity to win some Silverware certainly wasn’t (and still isn’t) at the forefront of my mind. More a ‘nice to have’.

We had absolutely no worries about getting a ticket for the final, as for the first time in six years we are both Season Card holders and we both have individual customer numbers. So, after having already registered with the new SAFC Ticketmaster site, I logged on again last Friday morning and purchased two tickets with ease. Job done.

So that’s my story. Couldn’t really care less about the Cup, haven’t been to any games in the Checkatrade Trophy this season, but can’t wait for Saturday 30th March to head down to London.

Now I’m sure there will be fans reading this who have not been successful in gaining a ticket for the final, and I’m sure I may have just made their blood boil a little. I’m not writing this in order to piss anyone off further, but I think it’s important to highlight not only my own experience, but that the distribution of tickets via Phases 2 and 3 did not affect me personally.

There will be fans who are not currently a Season Card holder but have been to many more games than me in recent times, be it Home or Away. There will be fans who buy tickets for their children, parents, partners, friends or branch members using just the one customer number, meaning loved ones are missing out due to a lack of official ‘purchase history’. Whatever the reason, there will be some fans who believe they should be worthy of a Final ticket who unfortunately will miss out.

This isn’t a new thing of course, I remember the furore in 1992 over FA Cup Final ticket distribution and most fans will know someone who has been furious at missing out on Wembley in the past. But let’s look specifically at the here and now, and how almost 40,000 tickets have been allocated by SAFC.

PHASE ONE – Season Card holders. One ticket per Season Card, all are guaranteed a ticket if they buy within the initial priority period.

Now, I’ve already explained my circumstances and I know that there will be many fans who have ‘stuck by the club’ or ‘shown more loyalty’ than myself in the last few years, but I haven’t heard too many complaints over the Phase One allocation process. If you have a Season Card, you are a priority customer. Simple as that.

One thing that appears to have been overlooked by many is the issue first thing on Friday regarding U16 tickets. Many people paid a lot more than they were expecting for their child’s ticket as instead of the advertised £10, upon reaching the checkout page of the website, prices fluctuated up to £30 for a Junior ticket. The patron saint of Wearside that is Chris Waters (Supporters Liaison Officer), advised via Twitter –

Just spoken to Ticketmaster. Please note that not every Block at Wembley has concession tickets available. If you can’t see a cheaper price it means concession tickets aren’t available in the block you are booking.

Now I personally don’t believe this was anything other than an error at the Ticketmaster end, but it was quite clear to me that the statement was incorrect, and I’m not sure how Chris didn’t pick up on that either. People were paying concession prices for U16s, just not the £10 advertised.

I presume that refunds will be applied in due course, but on the whole most fans didn’t seem too concerned with this as long as their tickets were secured. By the time I had bought mine and my lad’s ticket around 10am, the problem had been rectified.

PHASE TWO – Supporters with a recent purchase history (last two Seasons) who have also purchased a Walsall ticket.

International Members.

This is where it all got messy. Many fans voiced their disapproval over all elements of this Phase. I’ve already touched upon those without a Customer Number, or those who just simply don’t use it when buying tickets. This is the group of supporters I feel for most.

“I’ve always just bought mine and the bairn’s ticket on the same number”

“My Dad is in his 80s, he wouldn’t know what to do, so I’ve always just got his ticket”

“I just contact the Branch, they sort our tickets out then I square up with them on the day”.

It’s difficult not to empathise with anyone who misses out in these circumstances, but from the Club’s perspective it must be an almost impossible logistical hurdle to overcome.

I think clear and concise communication around the customer number and allocating tickets to others must be reiterated and reinforced from the powers that be asap, but I also wouldn’t criticise their handling of this difficult situation.

On International Members, I think they should also be subject to the same purchase history rules as those at home, but I’ll be honest I haven’t looked into the T and Cs of becoming a member, so I’ll park that one for now.

Walsall. This is the bit that seemed to piss most off, as it appeared to be nothing more than an opportunistic way to make a quick buck. How is that in any way rewarding loyalty? It annoyed me personally, but nowhere near as much as the way the situation was ‘rectified’. I’m sure you are aware, but after a day or so, Stewart Donald Tweeted that –

You DO NOT have to buy a Walsall ticket if you have a recent two-year purchase history. The press release is not clear enough, apologies. A clarifying release will be issued shortly.

Now this is only my opinion, but I think the Tweet wasn’t ‘clarification’ of a ‘misunderstanding’, it was just a load of bollocks.

I believe he witnessed the backlash from fans and thought he could cover it up by blaming an unclear press release, which he probably signed off. I could be wrong of course, but if not, that’s really poor. I also think a lot more would have been made of this, if it was Short or Murray delivering the same message, and many fans are now blinded by gratitude for the work Donald and Co have done so far.

Anyway, once the newly-clarified release was issued with the correct definition of recent purchase history, it meant that there were many fans who had bought a ticket for Walsall purely to enhance their chances of going to Wembley, and for various reasons were never going to attend the fixture.

Now what? Well, it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about what should happen to those tickets, those fans should be entitled to a refund of their money.

Just like those leaving their seats on 85mins, a genuine reason for one, is something completely different for another. This has annoyed the hell out of a lot of people, but to speculate as to why someone could not attend the Walsall match but can go to Wembley is a pointless exercise and quite frankly, no one else’s business.

To cap things off, on the day before Phase Two went on sale, another Tweet from the official SAFC account reiterated the eligibility, but unfortunately confused things further by stating you did in fact need a Walsall ticket. This was further compounded with a late change of time the tickets were to go on sale. With many people preparing themselves to get trigger happy at 8am, the late change to 10am would have caused many to have an uncomfortable last-minute chat with their boss or relinquish purchase responsibility altogether.

Altogether a bit of a shit show, to be honest.

PHASE THREE – Any remaining supporters with a recent ticket purchase history with the club.

Again, it’s down to the purchase history issue and the main dispute of those missing out. The only other option at this stage would have been a free-for-all I suppose, without any customer history, but given the limited number of tickets on sale in this phase, I don’t think this Phase has been a major talking point overall.

In summary, I think the distribution was fair overall (The Walsall issue aside), the communication very poor

And this is without any mention of the late move to Ticketmaster, the allocation of customer numbers or any technical issues with their site. As always, individuals within the club worked around the clock to help fans out as much as possible, and I’m sure there are many out there eternally grateful for their assistance. I do wonder how much of it could have been prevented though.

Going forward, I think that lessons can be learned from this occasion. It’s a hugely emotive and stressful time for supporters and I genuinely hope that the number missing out is incredibly small.

One final point is for the fans group, The Red and White Army. As you know, the aim of the group is –

To inform, liaise with and communicate with the club in the hope of strengthening fan relationships with SAFC, to the benefit of all supporters.

Haven’t heard a peep out of them.

Cheers for organising the whip round for flags and paintings though. Maybe put something on the agenda for your next meeting, because we could be going through this all again in a matter of weeks. And if so, the game in question will be significantly more important than the Checkatrade Trophy Final.

Ha’way the Lads.