Liverpool fans have been outraged recently by what was some quite poor handling of a difficult situation by the club. Liverpool were only given 17,000 tickets by UEFA for the Champions League final on Wednesday, and this was clearly never going to be enough.
Tickets were given to former shareholders, sponsors, current and former staff and players, and then anyone who went to 7 Champions League games was offered a ticket.
That wasn’t going to leave too many for the next group of fans to be considered, those who had been to six CL games. Nobody in that group felt they should automatically get a ticket, but they expected a fair chance in a fair ballot. It was worked out that they should have something like a one in three chance of getting a ticket.
Then when the ballot result was revealed fans shared details of how successful they and their friends were. People were claiming to have checked with friends and family, only to find that out of 7, 8 or 9 eligible fan cards nobody got a ticket. Someone else would say they knew of one out of twenty. And so a few websites made efforts to try and work out what the figure was. Nowhere near 1 in 3 were getting tickets.
Computer programs were written to query the club’s online system for checking if a fan card got a ticket. Again, it seemed to show nothing like 1 in 3.
Fans were angry, because something didn’t seem right. They wanted answers. Rick Parry was asked repeatedly for a breakdown of the allocation: “I’m not getting drawn into the numbers game.” It became the club’s official response after that, members of the press office staff clearly instructed to say the same.
A second ballot was run, and now it seemed that most “winners” were those with season tickets living in the Liverpool area. It went a long way to pacify those who’d been angry before, because finally people were starting find they actually did know someone who’d got a ticket, even if it wasn’t them.
And then today, finally, Rick Parry chose to “play the numbers game”.
Was he forced to do so by our new owners? After all they’ve already ripped up the plans authorised by our current Chief Executive for the new stadium so that they can fit more seats in. Or did he see the depth of feeling that his attitude had brought out? Fans have been scathing in their criticism of him, referring back to the near-loss of club captain Steven Gerrard in 2005 as an example of a blunder by Parry.
The important point is that, whatever the reason, Parry has now come forward and tried to put things right. By putting things right I mean he’s explained where the tickets went. It means we can now put the issue to one side until after the final itself. We don’t need this problem overshadowing the magnitude of what we were all looking forward to. We’re trying to win our 6th Champions League.
After the game is over we can look in more depth at what happened with the tickets, and Tom Hicks has said there will be reviews done this summer. Far too many tickets get into the hands of touts – and I include most “ticket agencies” in that – forcing fans to pay well over the odds for tickets. Touts can buy fan cards the same way that fans can, and over the course of a season can make a real killing. This money isn’t going to the club to help buy new players or improve facilities, it’s going to those who are uninterested in the club or Liverpool supporters. Any measures need to take into account that genuine fans aren’t penalised either – such as those who share season tickets to split the costs, or pass tickets onto mates at face value or less.
And in future it would always be best to be honest rather than imply there is something being hidden, which is how the “no numbers game” statement sounded, intentional or not.
Here’s what the statement said from Mr Parry:
Most of our supporters will be aware that the controversy surrounding the ticket allocations for the Champions League Final has been greater than ever before.
Regrettably, many feel it has cast a shadow over the incredible achievement of the Club reaching its second Champions League Final in just three years.
Because of the intense depth of feelings, I want to give some more information on how the tickets for the final were actually allocated and to address some of the issues that have been raised in this very public debate.
We received from UEFA a total of 17,095 tickets for the Final in Athens which compares with the 20,051 for the game in Istanbul.
For any Final we have commitments to former shareholders, corporate season ticket holders, players, former players, staff and sponsors. These commitments do not change significantly from one year to another and were in place when I arrived at the Club. So when people suggest that tickets have somehow gone astray this year I think it's important that these commitments are taken into consideration.
In Istanbul, some 14,500 supporters had been to six games or more and we were able to offer each of these people the opportunity to purchase a ticket for the Final. The split between season ticket holders and Fan Card holders was approximately 50:50.
For the game in Athens we had around 11,000 tickets available for general sale after the commitments I previously outlined were taken into consideration. However, although there were 3,300 people who had attended seven games, the problem was that there was a huge increase to 27,000 in the number who had attended six games.
As has been widely publicised, all those attending seven games were given the opportunity to buy a ticket for Athens, which meant that the other 27,000 supporters went into a ballot. The final number of tickets available for fans in the ballot is 7,700 which makes the chance of obtaining a ticket 1 in 3.5.
I am aware of continuous speculation about the numbers of tickets involved in the ballot and peoples’ chances of success but would like to assure our supporters that these figures have been thoroughly checked and are accurate. They also take into account that not all of our shareholders, for example, took up their allocation and the fact we were able to obtain a small additional number of tickets from the FA, for which we are grateful.
On the issue of ticket take-up it should be pointed out that because of the very tight timescales involved the first ballot had to be conducted at the same time as tickets were being offered under contractual commitments and to those who had attended seven games. Consequently, it was always likely that we would need a second ballot. I want to emphasise that the ballot itself was scrupulously conducted. It was independent, and fully computerised and there was no scope for manipulation or interference. I am aware of anecdotes concerning groups of fans who have failed to receive any tickets. I can't explain the anomalies but I have asked for the process to be checked and double-checked.
I think I should point out the total number of tickets purchased by season ticket holders will be in excess of 7,000 (at the time of writing we still don't know precisely what that figure will be as the selling process continues). The equivalent number in Istanbul was 7,900. So, despite the fact that we have 3,000 fewer tickets, the difference between the number of season ticket holders receiving tickets to the two finals is less than 1,000. A difference that is scarcely reflected in the strength of feeling that clearly exists.
Given that the ballot denied a ticket to many of our supporters who have been so instrumental in helping the team reach Athens, the outcome is understandably disappointing to those so affected. The qualification criteria were intended to be as fair as possible yet inevitably it means there are many aspects of those criteria with which individuals denied a ticket can and will take issue. However, these conditions were published at the beginning of the season and have been in place since 2002.
One of the most emotive issues with those season ticket holders with six credits who have been unsuccessful has been the inclusion within the ballot of fan card holders with just the corresponding six credits for the European games but no other games. This goes to the very heart of the reason why we introduced the fan card in the first place. We are convinced of the value of a fan card system for ensuring the invigoration of our active fan base. The sheer numbers involved prove that this is working. However, the depth of feelings over this particular aspect of the fan card system has reminded us we must never neglect our long-standing supporters.
There has also been much comment from Season ticket holders regarding their loyalty to the club and I want to recognise that commitment. However, without in any way belittling that support, I also need to point out that there are over 60,000 people on the waiting list for a season ticket, many of whom have been there for years and all of whom would dearly love the opportunity to secure a season ticket. They do their utmost to obtain tickets to all games and I also want to pay tribute to their dedication to Liverpool FC. I am certainly not going to get into a discussion about who loves the Club more as their support is equally important and this is clearly a very emotive debate.
I want again to express my regret over the heartache experienced by so many of our supporters in missing out on a ticket they deserve. I wish you could all have a ticket. I can only assure all those fans that we did our best with the very limited number of tickets we were given and at all times we have been consistent and fair.
Just as we did in 2001 at Dortmund and 2005 in Istanbul we raised our grave concerns with UEFA over what we consider a totally inadequate allocation. We have asked them again to look at the needs of the supporters as the paramount consideration in the staging of any European final and we will continue to do so.