The play offs previewed: away ticket scramble cuts through the heart of what it means to be a Bradford City supporter

Image by Thomas Gadd (copyright Bradford City)

By Jason McKeown

You tolerate the minor irritations that come from supporting a club with a rapidly expanding fanbase. On a home match day it’s no longer as easy to park near Valley Parade. And if you fancy a pint on North Parade, prepare for a lengthy queue. But nothing sets the emotions running as high as the prospect of missing out on a big game.

Bradford City’s play off semi final second leg game with Fleetwood is one of the most emotive occasions yet. Highbury is the second smallest ground in League One, and the Cod Army are understandably being strict over the Bantams’ allocation. Demand vastly outstrips supply. On Friday afternoon, tickets for the away end go on sale for City fans. There are going to be an awfully lot of disappointed people.

From a ticket perspective, Fleetwood is the worst possible play off tie the Bantams could have landed. Only 70 miles away from Valley Parade, even the Sunday evening kick off doesn’t stop it being an accessible fixture. For weeks Scunthorpe have looked the likely play off opponents for City, but on the final day they leap-frogged Fleetwood to set up a play off tie with Millwall instead. Scunthorpe have given the Lions 1,500 tickets for the Glanford Park leg. It is heavily rumoured that Fleetwood have restricted City to just 800.

If you’re a priority card holder – like me – you have a chance of getting a ticket. But there are no guarantees. Although official figures have not been made public, it’s estimated the Bantams have around 1,200-1,800 priority card holders. The scheme rules listed on the official website even makes reference to how a game at somewhere like Fleetwood wouldn’t guarantee priority card holders a ticket. The bottom line is that not every priority card holder is going to get to go to Fleetwood.

The priority card scheme was originally introduced on the back of a very similar situation: the 2012/13 play off semi final game against Burton Albion. Just like this time, interest in an away ticket to Burton was considerably higher than the away allocation, and fans queued up overnight to secure a ticket. To have first dibs on getting a Burton ticket, the only qualifying criteria was to have a season ticket. There were around 10,000 season ticket holders that season. So it wasn’t a particular fair system to reward those who travelled all over the country watching City.

In exchange for a £10 fee (rising to £20 this season), the priority card allows you first shot at securing away tickets and would have guaranteed you a ticket to matches like Chelsea, Halifax and Reading in 2014/15, and last season’s second leg play off game at Millwall. It also ensured you could attend all the big league matches, such as the recent trips to Bury, Sheffield United and Rochdale. These were not games that sold out before non-priority card holders had a chance to buy, but it took away the risk you might miss out. You were at the front of the queue.

I’ve had a priority card every year since they were introduced. For some seasons it hasn’t been needed, on other occasions it’s come in handy. It is effectively an insurance policy. It doesn’t particularly reward the loyalist and hardcore of City supporters – I’ve personally only attended eight away games this season – but everyone could buy one.

Could City have a better system for recognising their most committed fans? Of course, but it would cost a lot of time and money and only really be needed on those rarest occasions. City have sold out 10 of their 23 away league games this season, but there was ample opportunity for every season ticket holder to have gone to all but the Sheffield United game. At plenty of away matches, fans can turn up and pay on the day. This makes it very difficult to keep accurate records of each supporter’s attendance.

Even introducing better record-keeping is laced with problems. Do you start it from next season, and therefore ignore past years of loyalty? Probably. But to do that would risk upsetting supporters who have followed the club through thick and thin for years, but who might not be able to go as often anymore.

And that is the crux of the debate. Bradford City could have implemented 100 different ways of selling tickets for the away leg and they’d still have angered part of the fanbase. There are plenty of supporters who travel home and away on a regular basis who don’t have a priority card, and they are now deeply unhappy. There are people who have supported the club for decades who believe they are entitled to go to Fleetwood ahead of more recently acquired supporters.

We all protect ourselves with our own self-interest. The best system is always the one we gain the most from. That’s not a criticism, it’s human nature. We all invest heavily in our love of this club. No one wants to feel like a second class supporter.

The bottom line is the club has to stick to its own rules and look after priority card members first and foremost; even if some people who get to go to Fleetwood on Sunday will be attending their first away game of the season.

Missing out on a game because you can’t get a ticket is alien to the fabric of supporting a club like Bradford City. I’ve been going to away games for 20 seasons and only once have I ever failed to get a ticket – the FA Cup defeat to Newcastle United in 1999. However tricky it has appeared at times, if you’re organised and committed enough you’ll have been able to get a ticket for every City away game. I am incredible fortune to say I was at Wolves in 1999, Leeds 2011, Aston Villa in 2013, and – yes – Burton Albion in that play off semi final.

We are not Leeds United or Manchester United, who sell out every away game and whose fanbase accepts the fact that only those who build up years of loyal attendance deserve the chance of getting tickets for big matches. Most of us have been part of City away followings totalling less than a couple of hundred at some dismal ground hours away from home. We are a big club but not that big. And that has fitted us nicely.

This is the most difficult away game to get a ticket that I’ve ever known. A lot of us are likely to face bitter disappointment. It’s going to hurt like hell if we miss out. It’s going to dent our pride a bit. And it’s going to damage our relationship with the club a little.

Which is not to criticise those charged with this impossible task. The club has been given an incredibly difficult hand, and are playing it the best they can. They have paused, devised a workable strategy and even gone to the extent of offering priority card holders a free pint, pie and place to watch the game at Valley Parade on TV this Sunday. They can’t do much more. My experience of attending the MK Dons beamback last August tells me it will be a good night in the McCall Suite. Well worth going to if you don’t make it to Highbury.

There are thousands of City fans who deserve to go to the Fleetwood away game. This is a club that at times over the last 20 years have been propped up by its fanbase, and muddled on through with the help of those of us who defied common sense by sticking with them. Big occasions like this don’t happen too often and days in the sun should be relished. But what will be will be.

If you are lucky to get a ticket to Fleetwood, good luck to you. Just make sure the team comes back with a place in the play off final booked. So we can embark on a trip to Wembley that everybody can be a part of.

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Categories: The 2016/17 play offs

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14 replies

  1. I take (very small) issue with this statement: “We all protect ourselves with our own self-interest. The best system is always the one we gain the most from. That’s not a criticism, it’s human nature.” It’s actually merely your political point of view Jason, and others – perhaps such as those we have been hearing about who have purchased season tickets for someone else next year – have a different position.

    • Not sure I follow, but then I haven’t heard the views of anyone who bought a season ticket for someone else next year. Are you saying these people are saying they deserve a Fleetwood ticket because they have bought someone else a season ticket? Or have I misunderstood?

      Anyway on Twitter I have seen lots of people have a go at the club because they don’t have a priority card and they don’t think the priority scheme is fair, and going on about how they go to nearly every away game. I get their frustration but it is their self interest. It’s not like the club has changed the rules – they’ve been the same since 2013.

      • The away priority card is the deal – it has been for a couple of seasons or so, and the club’s been very clear about it – so no that’s not the point I was making. My point (in an election year!) is that “We all protect ourselves with our own self-interest. The best system is always the one we gain the most from. That’s not a criticism, it’s human nature.” is a political perspective, ie. it is an opinion or a world-view, and is not human nature (whatever that is). Like I said, I’m not trying to make a big deal out of it, all I’m saying is that views will differ on it, and perhaps – as an example – that’s the case for (some of) those who have been buying season tickets for others (or maybe not).

  2. If I don’t get a ticket im not going to slag the club off as what do people expect them to do if the rumours are correct and we only get 800?

    We know the club tries its best to look after the fans and I know the club will want as many there as possible but on this occasion it wont be possible.

    Lets just wait till we get to Wembley then there will be tickets for everyone roughly 30,000

    • Spot on. It’s an unenviable position for all at the club and one they can not be criticised for despite the disappointment of many. Let’s just put that energy in to tonight.

  3. How is gate money shared for these ties? Is it 50-50 (so Fleetwood get half of an 18,000 crowd and we get half a 3,500 crowd in return) or does the home side keep the lot as in a league game?

  4. Spot on article. There’s not many games over the 40 years Ive been following city where the club have got it wrong. Reading is one and not having your seat reserved for the big cup games was another ongoing issue. However, the latter has been resolved. Ive personally missed 1 game I couldnt get a ticket for and that was spurs in the FA cup back in 1989.

    With only an estimated 1000 tickets available for the Fleetwood game there was always going to be disappointed fans who travel week in week out. That’s the nature of the play offs at this level and also the beauty off it. I dont understand the vitriolic and condesending nature and tone of the new breed of some of the city followers that do Fleetwood down for having a small ground and fan base that is adequate for their needs.

    Fleetwood were playing at Park Avenues level only 10 years ago and now have as good a chance as any to be playing championship football next season. A remarkable achievement.

    There are so many options open to fans compared to the past. Radio, live streaming, sky home viewing, the local pub and talk of the game been beamed back to VP.

    For the record I think city will put the game to bed in the first leg and we can all look forward to a wembley weekend where we can cheer the club on as one to new heights.

  5. Another great article and one which will offer differing replies for the various readers of WOAP.

    If my memory serves me correctly, the reason that I got my first Bradford City season ticket was because of the difficulties I had getting an away ticket for Barnsley in April 1997. I’d been attending Bradford City games since May 1988 and not experienced any ticket traumas until the end of the 1996/1997 season. Barnsley were pushing for promotion whilst we were struggling to stay up. In the end I did manage to get a ticket for the away end and Oakwell and thus witness their 2-0 win and promotion to the top tier of English football. However this experience resulted in me getting my first season ticket, for the 1997/1998 season.

    Despite now working shifts and weekends I am still a season ticket holder and I know that there are games including home games that I won’t get to. I will be at Valley Parade tomorrow evening but unfortunately I will be working on Sunday so I can’t even watch the game on television.

    For what it’s worth, I think that our club has dealt with the Fleetwood Town away ticket situation as best as it could.

    Now come on Bradford City, let’s have to worry about booking a ticket for that stadium in North London!

  6. I left Bradford in 1972 when I joined up. Still followed City through the years home & away when able. In the old days long before the internet or even telephone sales my mum used to go down to VP and queue to get me a ticket for any “big” game.
    In recent years I would usually miss 3-4 away games but as I lived 100+ miles from Bradford it was nearly always pay on the gate so the club has no way of knowing my loyalty. When the priority cards came out I first used it for the Chelsea game, the only time I have actually used it. I couldn’t use it for the Burton game as I had a medical driving ban and the first train to leave Melton Mowbray on a Sunday goes at 12:35 so no way to get there. This year a similar thing for the Fleetwood game in that the flight to Manchester from Newquay doesn’t arrive until after 12 so practicalities says I will be watching down the pub.
    It is in the Bradford peoples DNA to moan but with the Fleetwood game the club are between a rock and a hard place and everything I have read indicates they are making the best of the cards they have been dealt. To those of you who get a ticket, you lucky bastards. enjoy the game and get behind the boys no matter what. To those like me stuck at home , Shit happens. Get a few beers down your neck and shout at the box and hope it’s not the end of this season and if it is just make sure you are back next year moaning.

  7. As usual, Jason is spot on. 1200 into 800 simply doesn’t go. 18,000 into 800 definitely doesn’t go. Attending in person would be amazing, but the club can’t reinvent basic maths. Some people will miss out. There are pints, pies and beamback.

    A mate of mine has Sky, so I’ll watch it there.

    And y’know, enjoy the latest success by supporting the club I love… not take “reaching the playoffs” as an opportunity immediately to lash out at that same club that has so impressively and progressively built its fan base with affordable pricing, just because this time I can’t have my own selfish way with such a small away allocation.

    Bigger picture, surely to goodness…

  8. I genuinely believe that our club has done as much as they can to appease fans. I was one of the fans who queued overnight to get one of the last few tickets left for the cup final a few years back. It was freezing but the club opened up the stadium and offered shelter and hot drinks. The club have to make a decision at the end of the day. If you are lucky enough to get a free supper and pint at the club next Sunday you’ve almost got the value of your priority card back courtesy of the club. Well done City

  9. Whilst there have been occasions in the past where the club could have been criticised for it’s ticketing policy, the Fleetwood game is sadly for many fans a no win situation for all concerned.
    Like you I have had a priority card since inception and whilst it has rarely been required it has given me peace of mind until now.
    The club can do nothing about the 800 allocation given it meets EFL criteria and crowd segregation which will ultimately result in many unhappy fans. However, it’s good to see the offer of a beam back at VP and hopefully those who miss out recognise the dilemma and put their energy in to supporting the club at a distance and then at Wembley where we will all get a ticket.
    Up the City!!

  10. Wholeheartedly gutted Ive not got a priority ticket… However that is my fault..
    And however much I’d like to be there it is on TV… Any way it can be beamed into Vp??

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