Chelsea vs Bradford City: Lessons to learn from the ticket fiasco

Queuing overnight for Burton tickets in May 2013

Queuing overnight for Burton tickets in May 2013

By Mahesh Johal

The process in which tickets were sold for Saturday’s prized game with Chelsea has come under much scrutiny over the last few days. Whilst many understand that this is a classic case of demand outweighing supply, some feel that process in which tickets were sold was flawed. Others will think differently.

The purpose of the article is to analyse the way tickets were distributed. With the first hand experiences of those who were fortunate, and those who weren’t, Width of a Post aims to paint a picture of the three days of ticket sales.

What was the buying process?

Below is a table of my interpretation of the club’s proposed buying process for the Chelsea game. If readers disagree, I guess it shows an immediate flaw that the process was too complicated…

Who can buy

When can they buy Where How many Further information

Away priority

15-16th Jan (deadline 17:00) Online only

Pick ticket up on 20 January from Valley Parade

Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub

17-18 January Ticket office 1 per Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub

Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub

17-18 January

Online 1 per Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub Supporters that bought multiple tickets online, phone or in person using only one season ticket should email pictures of away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall ticket stub. Club to call to confirm transaction.
Season, Flexi card 19 January Online & Ticket office

1 per person Season, Flexi card

Millwall stub 20 January Ticket office

1 per Millwall stub


Arguments have raged around the topic for nearly a week. Should flexi cards hold the same weight as a season ticket? Why was the priority card introduced? Was it fair that the 400 odd souls that made their way on the longest away day of the year missed out on the opportunity to buy tickets for the prized away day of the season? (Something that was belated rectified on Wednesday, with additional tickets made available to these fans.)

There have been many (probably too many to comment in one article) issues which people feel flawed the Chelsea ticket process. Some of the questions have been addressed in the club’s Q&A with Simon Parker, other question still remain unanswered.

In no particular order, here are some of the key issues and discussion points which came out of our interviews.

The Millwall stub and multiple tickets online…

Before analysing the above table, a quick reminder is needed about the process for the third round replay against Millwall. On the 7 January, fans were first informed that season and flexi card holders who purchased replay tickets would get a priority on buying tickets for the potential clash with Chelsea (for the purpose of the article, the 7 January announcement will be referred to as Millwall stub). For some fans, here is where the first major problem lies.

A season ticket holder for over 40 years, Pete Leskovac attended the replay with a group of 10 friends and family. The group’s tickets were purchased by Pete’s friend, and were all bought online under one person’s account. Whilst Pete went to the Millwall game, there is no record on his account that a ticket had been purchased. Instead it appeared that Pete’s friend had bought ten for himself. This proved extremely problematic when it came to buying Chelsea tickets.

Pete and his colleagues found themselves in the tricky position trying to buy tickets online whilst also sending the club an email with pictures of season tickets and Millwall stubs. As Pete described, “the stub and the email added another layer of complexity to the process”.

It should be noted that this added a layer of complexity was for both the fans and the club. From the fan point of view, it was an arduous process of collecting stubs from friends and family, taking images and sending them across to the club. For the ticket office staff, they now had a very time consuming manual job to perform. With the added pressure of selling tickets for the biggest game of the season, you can’t help but feel sorry for whoever had that responsibility.

Reading comments on social media, this seemed to be a reoccurring problem for many people who wanted to buy multiple tickets. I can’t help but feel for those fans and ticket office staff. Due to the process, everyone was fighting a losing battle from the start. To add to everyone’s problems, Pete explained how fans (understandably impatient and anxious) were ringing to enquire if there emails had been verified. As Pete rightly said, it seems the fundamental “lines of communication between the club and fans were lost”.

Talking to other fans, they feel the club could have stressed the correct procedure for buying multiple tickets for the Millwall game in order to avoid the manual verification method. The procedure being; each individual replay ticket should be linked to the individual’s customer account who attended to the game.

Arguments can be made that the club were “under resourced and not ready” for Saturday’s ticket sales. Those assumptions maybe correct, with the club saying on Tuesday that they were been unable to reply to all emails due to the pure volume of messages. However, I find it hard to criticise the staff. Again I look at the process and the manual verification as the major flaw here.

Club ticketing system

If the manual verification was unavoidable, were the problems in this ticket process due to the club’s ticket system? For Pete, the answer was yes. The club stated that introduction of the manual verification “was due the system being unable to reconcile multiple ticket purchases to each individual”. In his eyes, it was preposterous that the club would implement a ticket process, but have a ticket system that could not back it up. It’s here where a major flaw lies. Whilst the majority of the ticket process works, one aspect doesn’t due to the system.

For some, previous bad experiences with the system played on their minds. 26-year-old Andy Dresser decided to queue for his three tickets. Whilst I will talk about his experience later, it was intriguing to understand that he “did not trust the ticket system to cope with demand”. Andy described the “bad experiences he had in 2013, and when trying to purchase Leeds tickets for this season League Cup game”. I doubt he is alone in this fear and would presume it was a big reason why so many people queued on the Friday and Saturday.

Interestingly, my own experience buying online was actually quite easy. Admittedly I was only buying one ticket and had an away priority card to boot. I was able to purchase my ticket online on 16 January without the brunt of the user traffic. However, my experience was easier and less stressful than those I had in 2013. With this in mind, an argument could be made that the system is okay, but is it mature enough to cope with more complex transactions?

Both Pete and Andy rightly discussed the club’s hopes of progressing to the Championship. With a vast array of big away games, these problems will be happening more regularly. With this in mind, the pair stressed that the club needed a system to cope.

Picture by Claire Epton

Picture by Claire Epton


One of the biggest criticisms the club has faced is its dealing with the queue. In freezing conditions thousands of fans lined the outskirts of the stadium in the hope of getting a ticket. For those who got there early enough, they were lucky to get a ticket. For others, they faced the artic conditions without the knowledge that they would not be getting a ticket. Andy echoed Pete’s sentiment about the club’s lack of organisation and communication, and feels it’s a major reason for discontent.

Andy pitched up to the ground at 4:30 in the morning. Even at this time, over 400 fans had begun to queue. He described the morning as an “endurance exercise”, with fans waiting sodden, cold and wet outside the ground. It was only until 06:30 that stewards were on hand to help organise the queue. Even then it still took time to get fans into the “warmth” of the main stand concourse.

The club have said that they had opened all the facilities available to them, but should more have been done to make this painful experience more bearable? As one fan said to me, could provisions not have been made to make some tea for fans? It should be noted that the fans at City are treated very well and the club rightfully deserve credit. The season ticket pricing is an example of this. However, in this instance it seems as if the club was underprepared and have not thought of fans’ wellbeing.

This isn’t the first time Andy has lined up for tickets. He was one of the thousand or so who queued for Burton Albion play off tickets. When comparing the two experiences, this was far worse. Andy described that for the Burton queue fans were given a “raffle” type ticket with a “match ticket number”. Whilst it was tough experience waiting for your ticket, he said that it was bearable in the knowledge that they would be getting a ticket. This time round the communication was “non-existent”.

I think it’s the latter point which has upset so many. How could the club allow fans to queue for several hours even though it was apparent they would not be getting a ticket? Again the supply and demand argument comes into play, but surely the club could have saved some fans the hassle and the time?

What can the club learn from this?

The most difficult conversations surrounding this ticket sale is the question of, “which fans are deserving of a trip like Saturdays”. What makes me more deserving than you; what make you more deserving than them? There are some who, like Pete, who have been through the mire with this club and will be unable to go to Stamford Bridge. As Jason poignantly suggests, every fan has a right to be there on Saturday. He mentions the difficulty in quantifying supporters’ level and dedication, but can a method be implemented?

Much discussion on social media has revolved around the idea of a loyalty ticket system. In its crudest terms it means the more games you attend, the more loyalty points you get, the higher the priority you get for big games like this.

Pete used examples of Premier League clubs like Crystal Palace using a similar method. Admittedly some won’t see this as fair system. Some fans, like my cousin, were regular season ticket holders in the 90s. But as his career and family life has progressed his attendance at Valley Parade is less frequent. Does this make him a less committed and dedicated fan? I would argue it doesn’t, but a system like Palace’s would inevitably marginalise fans in his predicament.

Maybe the club should adopt Andy’s suggestion of a lottery system similar to the one Dortmund used for their Champions League Final in 2013. Either way, it’s easy to see how the club have struggled to keep everyone happy.

One thing is for sure. The club need to improve its lines of communications with fans over matters like this. The messages have to be simple and to the point. The process in which tickets are sold have to be of a similar vein. As this episode has proved, the more complex the process, the more people will struggle.

As someone who was fortunate enough to get a ticket, I feel for those who won’t be my side. I look to situations likes Pete and countless others and feel very fortunate. This game should be a uniting factor for our fan base. Instead it appears to be splitting it.

Let’s just hope that, by 17.30 on Saturday, the team has put in a performance that unites all of us.

And, in case a miracle does happen and City force a replay, let’s hope the club are already considering how to make sure ticket sales go much smoother.

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20 replies

  1. Yaawnnn. I didn`t get one either, Up the Bantams.

  2. I didn’t get a ticket but knew I wouldn’t as I hadn’t made it to the Millwall game. Overall I think the way the club set out to sell the tickets was the fairest way, especially considering people such as your cousin Mahesh.

    However my issue is with the Away Priority Ticket, whilst yes I see the benefits and for £10 its a sound investment, I don’t agree that its priority over ST/FC holders should carry over to Cup games, otherwise you will have fans who have no intention of travelling to any league away games who will buy it solely as an insurance policy just in case we draw a big team in the cup. Surely this isn’t the schemes intended purpose? Surely the intended purpose is to ensure that the fans who travel around the country every other week get a ticket for the big LEAGUE away days, for example on social media there have been many fans who have boasted about having bought the Away Priority Ticket as an insurance policy but haven’t travelled to an away game this season and subsequently got a ticket for Chelsea. This to me is wrong.

    As I said I think the club did the best thing in the way they prioritised ticket sales, with the exception of the Away Priority Ticket. There were obviously issues regarding the Millwall Stub and the online system but other than upgrading the ticketing system I don’t believe much needs to be done.

  3. We who were’t fortunate to get tickets despite trying every which way would hope lessons have been learnt especially if we manage a replay at VP ! CmonCity you can do it

  4. I have much sympathy with Pete Leskovac’s point of view. Whilst clearly having sold 11,000 tickets to City fans for the Millwall game and only having 6,000 Chelsea tickets to go around, there were inevitably some disappointed fans. However, much of the blame for the disappointment among some groups of regular fans can and should be placed at the door of the ticket office arrangements.

    Firstly, when selling multiple tickets at the TO, the ticketing staff did not allocate Millwall tickets to individual ST’s despite having the information. My friend bought 4 for himself, two friends and his son. All 4 Millwall tickets went to a single ST and not his own! He couldn’t therefore use the online system for purchasing Chelsea tickets

    Secondly, fans who bought multiple tickets online werren’t aware at the time of the significance of allocating them to individual ‘friends and family’ members and didn’t receive a reminder from the club to do so. Consequently, they were unable to use the online system for the Chelsea tickets which was particularly problematic for those who live away from the Bradford area including yours truly

    Thirdly, when Chelsea tickets were sold at the ticket office, there was no attempt to ‘reconcile’ ST reference with the reference on the stub as the club said they were intending to do when describing the arrangements on their website. Consequently anybody who had a Millwall stub and had access to a ST could buy a Chelsea ticket. The TO even had signs on the walls inside which said ‘1 ST + 1 Millwall stub = 1 Chelseas ticket.’ And that was irrespective of whether the stu and ST could be matched or at least reconciled. ST holders who could not get to the TO and who could not buy them online were severely disadvantaged. There are many reports of u16 Millwall ticket stubs being used in conjunction with an adult ST.

    Finally, the email arrangements put in place to overcome some of the issues with points 1 and 2 haven’t appeared to work. Anecdotally very few tickets have been sold via this route. I know of one aquaintance who sent their details (pictures of 2 stubs and 2 ST’s) to the email address within 25 mins of the arrangements being posted on the website. Unfortunately he wasn’t phoned back on the Saturday and as yet hasn’t received a follow up call.

    It appears to me that the prime focus of the club in the run up to the Millwall game was the ‘bethedifference’ campaign and to maximise the crowd on Wednesday night. That has appeared to dramatically reduce the pre-match thinking on how tickets would be allocated and administered if we had won. I trust that those who manage these processes have learned something about how to avoid a similar fiasco in the future. By initially saying that it all worked successfully suggests to me that they really didn’t appreciate the significance of it all and the bad feeling it has now created

  5. I must admit that when I bought 2 tickets for the Millwall replay for myself and my daughter, I was surprised when I was asked for my name or season ticket reference number as I hadn’t realised the relevance of putting that number on both tickets.
    I can only presume that the ticket office staff also didn’t realise the problems this would cause, when online bookings were involved.
    I spoke to a chap outside who was surprised that we would only be allocated 6,000 tickets if we got through to which I replied ” it will be plenty enough” how wrong I was !
    When it became obvious that I would have to queue if we wanted 2 seats together, I decided to go to Yeovil instead, so booked a hotel and had an overnight down there, sampling the delights of Yeovil (there aren’t any).
    My daughter is going to Chelsea on her own after booking 1 ticket online with one of our Millwall stubs, hope she enjoys her day.

  6. Should the Flexi-card carry the same priority as a season ticket?
    One could argue not.

  7. A Flexi Card is the same as a season ticket, just a different way of paying for it. Should those that pay in instalments for their season ticket carry the same priority as those that have paid upfront?

    ‘Q: Should flexi-cards have the same rights as season-ticket holders in this situation?

    A: Yes, because the flexi-card is only a different way of buying a season ticket. If you buy a flexi and come to every game, it would cost £280 as opposed to £199. Some still pay “on the drip” for a season ticket, so should they not be treated the same because they haven’t paid the full amount yet?

    We’ve always treated them the same. The reason we introduced the flexi-card was exactly that – to make it flexible for certain people.’

    • No, it’s not a different way of buying a season ticket. It is for people who can’t make every match due to work commitments etc. Anyone who is likely to be able to get to all (or most of) the games would surely buy a season ticket for £199 pre season rather than drip feed £280 in to the cup’s coffers? However, if there was a way of recording a flexi users matches attended, and this totalled at least 15, then I would agree they should rank alongside season ticket holders for matches such as Chelsea.

      All big match charlies need to do in future is lay out £60 for a flexi and a priority card and they automatically shoot to the top of the pecking order. This surely undermines the benefit of having a season ticket?

      • Oops…club’s coffers!!

      • What I don’t like about these games is the whole ‘I deserve a ticket more than xxxx’ argument. Living away from VP, I rarely attend Valley Parade, I see the team on the road more than in Bradford. Does this make me less of a fan? As Jason outlined earlier in the week and as others have commented we all deserve a Chelsea ticket and who are we to say someone shouldn’t go? At the end of the day we win, lose or draw together and we all feel as much when a goal goes in, it’s just we all have to make different kinds of sacrifices and there comes a point when realistically you have to put family / career first.

        Elsewhere, I feel sorry for those who queued in the cold with no guarantee of a ticket and think this could have been managed better on the day and as a bigger system, but how rare is it that demand outstrips supply in such a way?

  8. Again I will defend the club on their policy, although they implemented it far from perfectly. However we must take into consideration that time and again the owners have stressed that they minimise costs off field in order to maximise the budget available to Phil Parkinson in order for him to put a side out like the one we are currently having the pleasure of viewing. Combine this with the fact we lost our Director of Operations just a little earlier this season who had previously had experience dealing with such situations. As a side note I wonder if Dave Baldwin was consulted with regards to this as I’m sure he would have been more than happy to help out for this one off?

    But due to the strict budget management we employ we are not resourced appropriately to cope with such a situation unfortunately. Perhaps we should take some budget off Phil Parkinson to ensure we are as prepared off the pitch as much as possible on the off chance situations like this may occur?

    Secondly regarding the Millwall stub it is clear that this wasn’t completely thought through by the club and is definitely a poor oversight on their behalf. However, again they were trying to maximise the revenue from the replay in order to help take our club forward as the majority of supporters across social media had urged them to do.

    We must trust that they have learnt from these mistakes and apply those lessons to future such events for example dare I say a play off semi final away leg…

    Regarding the point about away priority tickets – of course they were purchased for exactly this situation – how many times have they been required for a league game? I have one – I have only been to one away game this season one of our most local games against Barnsley and it still wasn’t required!

    I’m also only a flexi card holder due to Saturday club football commitments and postponements dictating how many games I get to. I may end up end up paying more than a season ticket holder I may end up paying less, however if (yet another) great scheme by the club wasn’t made available to me then I would purchase a season ticket as I did before the scheme was in place.

    I think although the club do deserve an amount of criticism we should take a step back and be grateful for what they do do for us as supporters and how much they listen to us as fans and how we can shape our club. How far we have come over the past 4 years and whether other clubs go to the same lengths to accommodate their fans.

    Any problems you want to raise do so in the right way, a well mannered email or letter to the club who will take the time to read it and not just toss it aside like I imagine the directors of other clubs do. Or to the supporter’s board who will again make sure your voice is heard by the club.

  9. I went to Yeovil and still don’t have a ticket, how have they got in touch with people who went? I haven’t seen any announcement. Friday to Sunday we were in Yoevil, left someone to log on to get tickets who got our Millwall tickets. How naive was I to think he’d be able to use the reference from the Millwall tickets.

  10. I think the lesson to be learned here is that the club need to be clear at the beginning of the season how they will allocate big game tickets. Everybody can then buy into whatever option they want.

    So, for example, I live along way from Bradford. Every home game is an 8 hour 450 mile round trip. I go to about 10 home games a season and have a flexi ticket. I bought this on the understanding that flexi tickets would rank alongside season tickets for big games.

    If for next season we change the rules to say season tickets rank higher than flex tickets (and I can see the reason why we might do this) then that would be fine as long as it is clear at the beginning of the season. I, and others, could then decide whether to buy a flexi again – and risk missing out – or get a season ticket.

    The intoduction of the away priority ticket is “not fair” in my mind – but again, as long as the rules are clear it isn’t a problem.

    The issue with the Chelsea game for me was the the club suddenly changed the rules – ranking ST/FT with Millwall stubs ahead of other ST/FT. That wasn’t right – particularly for those of us for who travelling long distances on a midweek are simply not possible – and then to compound that we found that the systems didn’t cope.

    Its clear that we changed the rules to boost the Millwall attendance and to that extent it could be judged a success. And football fans being football fans – the bad feeling associated with standing in an 8 hour queue will probably dissipate quite quickly.

  11. There is one big lesson learnt – buy a priority away card.
    Announced at start of season, the club says you get priority in case of any game where demand is likely to outstrip supply. Maybe a big club away in the cup?
    I also bought holiday insurance in case of accident abroad; candles in case of power cuts; put a spade in the boot of car in case of snow…..
    Those who thought it wasn’t worth risking £10, well you pays your money.

  12. You simply cannot provide for everyone’s needs. The club put a fair system in place, there will always be some exceptions that are seemingly deserving that don’t get a ticket, it’s unavoidable. There is no 100% fair system and I think City went to a good deal of effort to put the fairest one possible.

  13. Like the majority I missed out. I have come to terms with the situation. I had bought 4 tickets for the original leg at the New Den, I then bought 5 tickets for the replay. However they were only on my individual ticket. So despite all these purchases, they only allowed me to get 1 ticket online, despite the club verified purchase history. I had bought the tickets on the 7/1/2014, so was one of the earliest purchasers, as I could see that only about 30 tickets had been bought, in the block I sit in. I duly followed the club advice, scanned 5 tickets + stubs and e-mailed them through. no response. I scrutinised the C&B web page. Only 1 poster reported success using this method, which seems quite unusual to say the very least!
    I have a round trip to Valley Parade of over 50 miles. So to travel over and purchase the tickets and then collect them in person would require over 100 miles travel, the second journey during the week. This is not a ‘green’ solution! It is time inefficient.
    There has to be a far better way. I have learnt from this and will make sure that future purchases are against named individuals, so 1 potential ticket against1 purchase. In this ‘day and age’ it is somewhat incredible to see people queueing in the manner you would expect before the introduction of computers and access to the internet. Never mind Mr Pressley’s snide comments about ‘Dark Age’ football, this was ‘Dark Age’ tickets sales.

  14. Whatever happens today (really do a wish for a City draw), what we should consider from the ticket saga is that we sold 6,000 in little over half a day! WOW. From my memory that will be one of largest away following we’ve ever had (exclude trips to Wembley). People say Leeds and Villa away in 88 had greater numbers. I was at Hull in 96 when over 6k went.

    On the whole only fans who had season/flex/away priority tickets got a ticket to Stamford. Imagine the uproar if tickets went to the general public before those who had soon some loyalty to the club. Wasn’t perfect and lessons will no doubtfully be learnt but lets focus on the positives. Up the City!!!

  15. Little has been made of another aspect of this woeful tale, namely that the club would not post tickets bought on line.I am a season ticket holder. I live in London.Every home game for me involves a 400 mile round trip.
    I journeyed up for the Milwall game and then,as I was obviously not going to get an online ticket posted to me, stayed with friends in Skipton in the hope of collecting a ticket in person..On the Saturday morning I turned up at VP at 9am and queued and queued know the rest.
    Why was the club unable to post tickets,as they normally do,for this game? I could have sat in the warm at home and bought my ticket online.

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