Those of us that spend the majority of our time watching lower league or non-league football have no involvement in the awful process and uniquely undignified process of buying tickets. Outside of the Premier League, there are very few all-ticket matches. Some clubs don’t allow you to pay on the turnstile on the day, but getting advance tickets for a match involving, say, Brighton & Hove Albion is a fairly leisurely activity. If you phone the ticket hotline, it will more often than not be answered with an almost incredulous “Hello?”, as if the person answering the call was at best not in the slightest expecting the phone to ring or, at worst, sitting there wondering what that strange looking adding machine with a handle in front of them actually was.
The ticketing arrangements for the FA Cup First Round match between AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers to be played a week on Monday were made public on Wednesday. It is an inherent problem for the FA Cup. With the rounds of the competition being played out every two weeks since the middle of August, clubs that aren’t used to having to sell so many tickets at such short notice are thrown in at the deep end. Wimbledon have had all-ticket matches before (for example, their FA Trophy match against Torquay United last season), but with this match receiving national media coverage and being shown as one of the live matches on Setanta Sports, interest was likely to be considerably higher than usual, with a good chance that it would be a sell-out. How, then, would their team of volunteers cope with it all?
Tickets went on sale at the ground at ten o’clock yesterday morning, with the telephone line opening half an hour later. Most non-league grounds allow easy access to all areas but, after a consultation with health and safety, it was confirmed that people buying tickets would have to choose which part of the ground they would have to stand in. Season ticket holders would be guaranteed a ticket so long as they turned up to buy one before 4.00 on Tuesday afternoon, but they wouldn’t be guaranteed a place in the part of the ground that they usually stand in. They would, however, have the chance to buy up to four tickets. All seating tickets and tickets for The Tempest End (the most popular spot for home supporters), however, had sold out by lunchtime meaning that, whilst many season ticket holders would have to watch this particular match to their usual spot.
The club was stuck somewhere between a rock and a hard place. One the one hand, it was critical that all season ticket holders had a reasonable chance to buy a ticket. It is a standard process for season tickets holders to receive first priority when match tickets may be in short supply, and it is also normal for clubs to offer more than one ticket to each season ticket holder. On the other hand, however, it is over-simplistic to suggest that they only supporters that should get to choose where they stand for a match are season ticket holders. Terrace season tickets do not specify an area of the ground in which season ticket holders can stand. They were already benefitting significantly from being able to purchase four tickets each (a policy which may yet ensure that some regular supporters that don’t have to opportunity or desire to purchase a season ticket may well miss out), so why exactly should they choose which part of the ground they get to watch the match in?
Considering that the operation was ultimately run by unpaid volunteers, AFC Wimbledon have done as much as they could to ensure that the correct balance is struck, although they could probably do with an extra couple of phone lines (the credit card line was tied up all day, making it a lottery for anyone stuck at work), and four tickets per season ticket holder seems a little high. The only other thing that I can think of that would help would be for the FA to perhaps allow an extra week between the Fourth Qualifying Round and the First Round Proper to allow smaller clubs a bit of time to make appropriate arrangements. There are considerably smaller clubs than AFC WImbledon still in the FA Cup, with much less experience of handling big crowds and the danger is that, without sufficient time to prepare, there could be chaotic scenes on First Round day. When one considers that tickets for First Round matches currently can’t go on sale until a week and a half before the matches are due to be played, it would seem sensible to push the First and Second Rounds back by a week – after all, there is space in the calendar for this. From a personal perspective, I was fortunate enough to have a friend that lives near the ground who popped up there to pick up two tickets yesterday evening. Fingers crossed that everyone else that wants a ticket gets one.