Anderlecht’s Uefa Charge Offers Hope For Fleeced Liverpool, United Fans

Anderlecht’s Uefa Charge Offers Hope For Fleeced Liverpool, United Fans

Friday, 2 February, 2018 - 10:15
Bayern Munich fans protest against Arsenal’s ticket prices at the Emirates Stadium in 2015. Photograph: Tobias Hase/EPA
London - Andy Hunter
Shortly after 6pm CET on Tuesday Anderlecht were charged with infringing Article 19 (3) of Uefa’s safety and security regulations. Not the sexiest intro, admittedly, but the charge against the Belgian champions offers hope for fans being fleeced at European away games year after year. Anger, however, remains the prevailing mood over a ticketing system open to abuse.

Uefa opened proceedings against Anderlecht after the club charged Bayern Munich supporters €100 to attend a Champions League group game in November. Many Bayern fans boycotted despite tickets eventually being reduced to €70 thanks to subsidies from their own club. As at Arsenal two years earlier, when Bayern’s away support was charged €100 to watch a group game, it was time to make a stand.

Their outrage at a club cashing in on a rival’s mass following, and at Uefa appearing to ignore their concerns, was well-founded. European football’s governing body took disciplinary action only against Bayern initially, fining the club €20,000 after their supporters tossed fake money on to the pitch (throwing of objects, according to the charge) and displayed an “illicit banner” – again, according to Uefa’s control, ethics and disciplinary body – that read: “Is your gr€€d now finally satisfi€d?” A legitimate question with a costly answer.

The announcement this week that Uefa will investigate the source of the problem at Anderlecht is a welcome step, albeit one that follows intense pressure and a continuing campaign against European ticket prices by the Bayern supporters’ group Club Nr 12.

It was Club Nr 12 that first accused Anderlecht of breaching Article 19 (3), which states: “Unless the associations or clubs concerned agree otherwise, the price of tickets for supporters of the visiting team must not exceed the price paid for tickets of a comparable category that are sold to supporters of the home team.” Supporters of the Belgian club had, Club Nr 12 pointed out, been able to buy group stage tickets only as a package. The total cost to Anderlecht fans for home games against Bayern, Celtic and Paris Saint-Germain was €141.

Uefa’s decision to charge Anderlecht is timely. The rule to prevent clubs over-charging away fans may be well-intentioned but its loopholes are being exposed with increasing regularity. Complaints are rising with prices.

Liverpool this week confirmed they had complained to Uefa and Porto over the Portuguese club charging away fans three times as much as their members to watch next month’s Champions League tie. Manchester United fans are having to pay €101 to attend their last-16 first leg at Sevilla. That is €40 more than Liverpool fans paid there in the group stage, so United have charged Sevilla fans an extra £35 at Old Trafford and are using the money to subsidise away tickets in Andalucía. Sevilla are now subsidising their fans for the second leg. They have reported United to Uefa for the price increase and for not making 5% of Old Trafford available for away fans. It is an unedifying tit-for-tat that fails to address the issue and exposes Uefa’s weaknesses in combating inflated prices.

Sevilla and Porto may be on suspect ground morally but have not breached Uefa rules. The latter are charging Liverpool fans €75 for tickets to a game Porto club members will attend for €25. Porto’s loophole is that general admission tickets for home supporters are €75. “It is not apparent that there will be any home general admission tickets sold at €75 due to the anticipated demand by FC Porto members,” read a Liverpool statement on Tuesday. “Liverpool FC has therefore raised this significant discrepancy at the highest level with Uefa and FC Porto, who have confirmed that this pricing structure and policy is in line with previous rounds in the competition.” Leicester fans paid £34.50 at Estádio do Dragão in December 2016.

Uefa said: “The matter of ticket pricing for away clubs is a topic that has been raised to Uefa on several occasions. Since the pricing strategy regarding ticketing is under the responsibility of the home club, our focus is on encouraging dialogue between the clubs to resolve any disputes or avoid any disagreements relating to such matters. Breaches of regulations can result in disciplinary proceedings being opened.”

The stand-off between United and Sevilla does nothing for Uefa’s attempts at conciliation. Giving free rein to home clubs on ticket prices has fuelled the problem in many cases. Premier League clubs differ in their approach to this season’s Champions League. Liverpool have one price structure for the competition – fans paid £59 to watch the group game against Maribor from the main stand and would pay the same for a semi-final against Real Madrid – whereas Chelsea charge £35 for the group stage before raising prices for the knockout rounds. It will cost a non-member £75 to watch the last-16 first leg against Barcelona from the upper West Stand, if any tickets remain for non-members.

One proposal by Club Nr 12 is for clubs to charge away fans the lowest-priced ticket available to home supporters. That way the intent of Article 19 (3) is protected and loopholes closed. That arrangement is in place in the Bundesliga. Club Nr 12 has also called for reciprocal ticket pricing, whereby away fans from countries with lower incomes pay no more than they would for home matches. Bayern’s support would benefit from paying the same price for the away leg.

Bayern fans can claim a victory should Uefa sanction Anderlecht next Friday but their argument that the Respect campaign should also apply to fan culture unfortunately has a long way to go.

The Guardian Sport

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