By Omar Eliwi
My initial brief for this article was to add to Luke’s match report – my thoughts on Phil Parkinson’s summer business and, having witnessed our first home match, our prospects for the coming season.
But instead of focusing on our chances this season, which I believe are looking great, I’ve decided to concentrate on the position that 50-100 City fans found themselves in last night queuing outside the Midland Road stand, waiting to get inside the ground via the new Flexi-card system.
City’s new scheme has proved popular among supporters, with over 1,000 fans signing up thus far. It makes perfect sense for supporters who will attend home games regularly, but can’t commit to the full 23 home game schedule. For myself, with our second child on its way in a few weeks, it seemed like a perfect solution – I reserved my seat for £50, and wasn’t stung for £20 every time I wanted to check on City’s progress.
I hate missing kick off, or the start of any sporting event I attend. It is a massive pet hate of mine. Last night in the lead up to the game, everything seemed to be going well. I met my long term fellow City fan friend in our usual meeting spot that we use for Tuesday night games, and we headed up to Valley Parade and arrived at 19.35, ready for a short delay before getting into the ground just before kick off.
The queues outside the Midland Road stand were not out of the ordinary. Busy? Yes, but a queue that I expected to get through well in time for kick off.
Then, a problem came up. It appeared that only one of the six to eight turnstiles in the area were set up for Flexi card holders to pay their £10 on the night. This seemed a bit strange, but I was still confident of making kick off.
But my confidence was short lived. The other turnstiles queues for “full season ticket holders” quickly dwindled, but our queue was moving at a snail’s pace. Supporters in the queue were getting restless. What the hell was going on? Nobody could provide any answers. How long does it take to flash a card and hand over £10?
Stewards were watching the situation get worse, as it was obvious we were going to miss at least the first five minutes of the match.
A woman from the club appeared on the scene, holding a clip board. She provided no answers and just served to infuriate the frustrated crowd even more. She kept on saying that she “didn’t have the authority” to open more turnstiles. Why was she there? Stewards were agreeing with the crowd that the set up was a joke. Suggestions from people behind me asked whether we should be allowed in for free once 8pm approached, but “clipboard woman” quickly dismissed that idea, as again she didn’t have the authority. Hmm.
When we eventually got in I was given flexi ticket number 174, and there were at least 50 people behind me get to get in. They were still using the one turnstile.
Didn’t the club know how many people were expected in each stand to enter via this method? Why was the solo turnstile operator’s job taking so long? Did any planning take place? It was a complete shambles.
I know with the role out of a new system there was bound to be a couple of teething issues, but supporters missing a large chunk of the first half should have been deemed unacceptable. And, given such a massive planning mistake, a good will gesture, like “free or half price entrance” should have been made for the people that arrived at the ground in plenty of time but who missed the start.
I’m sorry to put a slight downer on what turned out to be an excellent home opener, but I hope to get a few more answers out of the club to fully explain what went wrong, rather than the brief acknowledgment of the problem on the official website that appeared today. The statement says what they will be doing on Saturday to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but nothing to say that they got it wrong – or an apology.
If football is now a business, then this is very much a complaint from a very angry customer.