Tickets? We don't need no stinkin' tickets!

Despite rules governing the distribution of tickets to football matches being in place, disagreements between clubs over ticketing are commonplace. Usually these disagreements fall into one of two categories. Either a team is complaining because they feel as though they haven’t been allocated sufficient tickets or the fans of a team are complaining about the price of tickets; usually that they are too high or that the fans of the away team are being asked to pay more than those of the home team. Well, now there’s a third category for ticket rows to fall into.

On Saturday, Dundee United will host Glasgow Rangers at their Tannadice Park stadium in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. There has been a huge commotion over Rangers’ ticket allocation for this match. This time, there’s no issue about Rangers wanting more tickets and not being given them and there’s no issue amongst Rangers fans about being overcharged. The issue this time is that Rangers have decided they didn’t want any tickets at all.

For those who don’t know, last summer the terrible financial mess Rangers, one of the two Glasgow giants that dominate Scottish football, through the terrible financial mismanagement of their owners caught up with them, which ultimately resulted in the liquidation of the club and all of the club’s assets and business dealings were transferred to a new company, which in effect meant the creation of a new football club. As such, that meant that the ‘newco’ Rangers weren’t automatically entitled to play in the Scottish Premier League had to re-apply for their place. 10 of the 12 SPL teams voted against them and as such, Rangers had to take a place in the bottom division of Scottish football, Division Three and will have to work their way up through the divisions.

Dundee United Chairman Stephen Thompson was a seen by Rangers fans to be an influential figure behind the decision of those clubs to refuse Rangers re-entry into the SPL. Rightly or wrongly, Thompson is perceived by Rangers fans as having an agenda against the club and as I saw one fan put it ‘dancing on its grave’.

There are also other reasons for Rangers fans enmity towards Dundee United. In 2009, a game between Dundee United and Rangers was abandoned at half-time due to a waterlogged pitch. Usually, if that happens fans can either re-use their tickets for the re-arranged game, or if that’s not convenient, get a refund. In that particular case, Dundee United wouldn’t let Rangers fans in on their original tickets and refused to give any refunds. A Rangers fan group actually took Dundee United to court over the issue, but lost the case.

Rangers fans have also accused Dundee United of charging them far more that they charge fans of other clubs for away tickets.

So, when Rangers were drawn to play Dundee United, which will be the first time they have visited an SPL side since the end of last season, the fans decided to make a statement by boycotting the game. The club decided to back them up, with Rangers Chairman Charles Green releasing the following statement:

“Rangers Football Club will not be taking its allocation of tickets for the forthcoming Scottish Cup match against Dundee United at Tannadice. This is a unanimous decision by the board, senior management and staff at Ibrox (Rangers’ stadium). Everyone at this club is dismayed at the actions of certain SPL clubs, which were actively engaged in trying to harm Rangers when we were in a perilous situation and we are acutely aware of their attitude to us.

Not all clubs who voted against Rangers returning to the SPL fall into that category and indeed we made Motherwell very welcome when we played them at Ibrox in the League Cup competition recently. However, feelings remain very raw and it should be no surprise that we as a club feel this way. It is unsurprising too that there has been a reaction from our supporters to this particular fixture.

The last thing we as a club want to do is to compromise security arrangements for any match. I therefore appeal to all fans not to travel to this match and to Dundee United not to sell tickets to Rangers supporters. Our only regret is that this turn of events will not assist Ally McCoist and the team in what will be a very difficult fixture.”

Rangers’ refusal to take any tickets has left Thompson and Dundee United furious. Despite being in the bottom division of Scottish football, Rangers still have a massive fanbase and remain one of the biggest draws in Scottish football, with fans coming from all over Scotland to watch them play. Dundee United’s average attendance this season is 7,524, so they will have been hoping to financially benefit from a much higher attendance when Rangers came to play, with Rangers’ away support usually around the 5-6000 mark.

What’s worse from Dundee United’s perspective is that according to Scottish Cup rules, gate receipts get split between the two clubs, which when all is said and done will mean that Rangers will get about a third of the ticket sales despite not having contributed to them. Dundee United called on the Scottish FA to alter the rules to allow them to keep 100% of the ticket sales money, but that was rejected. Green has promised that Rangers will give the money they receive from this game to charity.

What has happened since Rangers made their stance public is an extraordinary display of increasing childishness and pettiness from both clubs.

Usually, a boycott is when an individual or a group decides to take a stance against a company for some sort of indiscretion (real or perceived) in the hopes of achieving a change for the better. In this case, the chairman of one company has called upon its customers to boycott another company for no other reason than to screw with them.

Thompson called on the Scottish FA to intervene in this ticket row, suggesting Rangers were guilty of bringing the Scottish Cup into disrepute, but the SFA ruled that Rangers’ stance may be petty, but they haven’t breached any rules and whilst they have the right to take 20% of the tickets for that game, they can’t be forced into taking an allocation of tickets if they don’t want to.

It was thought Dundee United would reduce ticket prices to next to nothing in order to deny Rangers ticket money, but it was pointed out to them that according to cup rules, there is a minimum ticket price of £8 for tickets with prices above that to be agreed by both clubs. It was also pointed out that any money that is denied to Rangers is also denied to Dundee United, so rather than cut their nose off to spite their face, Dundee United and Rangers settled on a ticket price of £15.

Dundee United then said that if any Rangers fan wanted to come, they’d be happy to sell them a ticket directly and they will set aside an area for away fans inside Tannadice. That in turn led Rangers to respond by saying Dundee United are playing with fire and possibly compromising fan safety.

Rangers’ concern is that if they don’t get to control exactly who gets an away ticket; then known troublemakers or hooligans that have been banned by Rangers, or indeed banned fans of other clubs whose sole purpose for attending would be to cause trouble, could end up with tickets for the game.

Green said “I’m disappointed. We have been clear from day one – because of the fans’ issues with Dundee United in the past we made the decision not to take tickets and requested they didn’t make tickets available to Rangers fans.

“There are a number of issues and safety has to be paramount.

“We are concerned United won’t know who they are selling tickets to. How will they know if they’re genuine Rangers fans or potential troublemakers?

“If we’re not selling the tickets then we’re not convinced someone on the outside has that control.”

So, Rangers have basically washed their hands of any responsibility with respect to the behaviour of any away fans who do decide to attend the match and have made it clear that should anything bad happen, the blame is with Dundee United.

So far, it looks as though the boycott is largely holding, with latest estimates suggesting that only 200 tickets have been sold for the away fans. It will be interesting to see what happens if this game goes to a replay, where it is entirely possible that Dundee United fans would decide to reciprocate a boycott. That would end up hurting Rangers, as they have far larger attendances than Dundee United, so the amount Dundee United would receive as a share of ticket revenue would be far greater than that Rangers will receive on Saturday.

It’s great to have principles and even better to act upon them. Rangers fan feel wronged and have decided to do something about it. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, this may not be the smartest course of action as Rangers may find that fans of other clubs use this tactic against them and that they may have made a rod for their own back by taking such a stance.