Here is my letter to the FA regarding the decision taken by Arsenal FC to reduce their allocation to away supporters for the FA Qtr Final on the grounds of safety. The FA’s reply is also reproduced below.
“Dear Mr Dyke
Arsenal FC v Everton FC – FA Cup Saturday 8 March 2014
I am extremely concerned that Arsenal FC have taken a decision to dramatically reduce the away fans’ allocation for the FA Cup Quarter Final. I will declare my own interest on this matter immediately – I am an Everton season ticket holder, but as Mayor of Liverpool I will fight for fairness for people of this city under any circumstances. I am also concerned that the FA have been overwhelmingly silent in their response to the announcement.
I fail to understand how the FA can sanction a move contrary to its own rules, at a time when the FA Cup is struggling to preserve its reputation as a truly special and inclusive cup competition with a long and proud history. Surely what represents all of its finest traditions and the aura of the cup most is the atmosphere generated by highly partisan crowds which are boosted by the 15% regulation and which go some way to levelling the playing field for the away side.
I respect that the views of the Safety Advisory Group are critical in respect of stadium safety issues and cannot be ignored. I also absolutely condemn the use of flares or any other pyrotechnics at matches. I am not for one moment convinced however that the stadium management of a premier league football club, with years of experience of handling domestic and European cup fixtures cannot devise a solution to ensure that the FA’s 15% rule is maintained, especially in a modern, purpose built stadium such as the Emirates. I am aware that the stadium stages concerts where dancing and alcohol consumption are a regular feature in the upper tier, yet football supporters are treated so appallingly. This is deplorable given fans’ importance as a key stakeholder in the success of the game, a fact which the FA regularly appears to overlook.
Arsenal’s aggressive and draconian stance that any previous transgressions by a mindless few will result in 4000 fans being penalised is blanket discrimination and is the time for the FA to step in rather than absolve itself of any responsibility.
Surely the obvious solution, if the Safety Advisory Group are so concerned about the upper tier allocation, is to identify a block with seats in the lower tier of the stadium ? It seems not just to me and the majority of Everton fans, but also to casual observers, that Arsenal are seeking to use this excuse and their obstinate refusal to co-operate, to reduce the away support and thereby gain a competitive footballing advantage, with the FA’s apparent endorsement. The decision to not reduce Coventry’s travelling support, yet to do so when Premier League opposition such as Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton comes to town only reinforces the suspicion that safety factors are not the only motive behind their decision.
By being weak-willed and failing to impose its own rules the FA are acting against all of its equalities obligations but also foolishly shooting themselves in the foot by conspiring to denigrate the very traditions and spirit that embodies the FA Cup.
I urge you to meet with the management of Arsenal FC as a matter of urgency to find a solution that ensures compliance with the FA regulation. Failure to show any leadership on this matter will only further the perception held by the majority of football fans that the FA is spectacularly out of touch with the needs of the modern supporter and has total disregard for the role that fans contribute to the game. It seems abundantly clear to me that if the FA can’t be bothered to uphold the spirit and respect the value of the FA Cup, then don’t cry if fans do the same.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Mayor of Liverpool”
The FA have replied with a disappointing response given their role and influence in the game. I note their intention to engage with Arsenal for future arrangements and I will be holding them to account on this. I will be asking Mr Hall to engage wider fan groups together with myself and MPs on this issue. Not withstanding, I have written to the Leader of Islington Council Cllr Richard Watts encouraging him to get invovled in the discussions on behalf of the local authority. My letter to him is copied below, and I am pleased that he has given me a positive response.
“Dear Councillor Watts
Arsenal FC v Everton FC FA Cup Quarter Final 8 March
You will be aware that Arsenal FC has recently taken a decision to reduce the 15% allocation of tickets that Everton FC are entitled to claim for the upcoming FA Cup Quarter Final to be held at Emirates Stadium. Everton FC, similar to Tottenham FC and Liverpool FC in earlier rounds of the competition, are losing 4000 tickets as a result of the decision which is based on a recommendation of the Arsenal Safety Advisory Group. The Group has citedpersistent standing and the use of smoke bombs/pyrotechnics in the upper tiers of the Emirates stadium as justification. I wish to make my own view clear that safety at football grounds is paramount and should not be compromised under any circumstances, nor do I condone the use of pyrotechnics in any shape or form.
I am concerned however that the football club appears to have no willingness to explore or discuss alternative arrangements, in consultation with the Safety Advisory Group to ensure that this 15% rule is met. I have received many representations from residents of my city who feel they are being discriminated and unfairly treated in relation to this issue. I appreciate that this is clearly a matter for the multi-agency Advisory Group, in conjunction with the football club to determine, but as Council Leader I would call upon you to encourage discussions to take place at the very highest level to ensure that the FA’s 15% rule for Emirates Stadium is adhered to in future seasons.
This, to me, is simply a matter of fairness and ensuring that the spirit and tradition of the greatest domestic football cup competition can be enjoyed by as many supporters as possible. I have been in correspondence with the FA and will be urging them to take a more pro-active role in brokering solutions for the future, but I think if we can commence the conversation at the local authority level, it is much more likely to succeed with our support and I hope you will be able to progress that. I will of course be writing to the clubs in Liverpool to ensure their commitment to the 15% rule future FA Cup fixtures.
I look forward to hearing from you.