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Norwich and Leicester do battle... over Tickets

Saturday 11th February 2012
An interesting little sub-plot to the fifth round weekend is slowly developing in Norfolk and Leicestershire respectively, as Norwich City confirmed Leicester City would receive only 2400 tickets for the FA Cup fixture on Saturday 18th February at Carrow Road. This represents less than 10% of the grounds capacity, and substantially less than the 15% (or 4000) tickets Leicester should be entitled to under the competitions rules.

The decision was taken by the Norfolk County Council's Safety Advisory Group, following representation by both Norwich City and the local police force. So why has such a decision been taken?

Leicester City have as good a reputation as the majority of football league clubs from a safety perspective. Similarly there is little history of confrontation or disagreement between the clubs and their supporters; one incident in 2008 which totalled 11 arrests aside. So clearly it's not down to the potential for trouble, any more than it is on any other match day. Certainly there are other clubs that you'd rather not host.

Carrow Road houses away fans within the Jarrold Stand which houses circa 8000 fans on match days. It was custom built in 2003/04 to allow for different allocations of away fans on match days, but to memory I believe only allows for just over 3000 away fans without the need for some rather temporary measures to be taken. Why only 3000, if the FA Cup allows for 15%? Since the redevelopment of that stand, a further 1500 seats have been added by the infill of a corner of the ground; and a further 1500 seats have been added across the stadium, by taking the budget airline approach of cramming as many bodies in as possible.

These seats have been added due to Norwich City's climb up the footballing ladder, with record attendances and sell outs every week. So it would appear that such expansion has been done with the potential oversight of expanded away capacity on FA Cup weekends. Norwich's recent abysmal cup record may play a part in this, however it does appear somewhat short cited. This coupled with the demand for home tickets – with 22,000 home season ticket holders – Mr and Mrs casual or semi-regular attendee are not going to get a look in at such games. You rather feel the latter is closer to the clubs wishes and agenda, than the pleasure of Leicester City followers.

It's not the first time this season that ticketing for away fans has made the news – the Manchester derby, somewhat more high profile, restricted United fans to just over 5400 seats, where a 15% allowance at Eastlands would be closer to 7000. Such restrictions clearly rile the away fans, in a competition that in its latter stages still attracts more away fans than the norm. I'm sure if the football boot was in the other park, in Manchester City, or Norwich in this case, they would equally kick up a fuss about wanting their fans to be at the game.

The rules are there for a reason – to allow a good percentage of away fans the chance to attend an FA Cup game against opposition they may not often get to see. If such rules exist, clubs should abide by them rather than looking to the safety angle as a potential excuse to allowing more home fans into the crowd. If it means grounds are not quite suitable on certain occasions for the expanded away following, then the club concerned need to address this – Norwich City have for example, a stated aim to increase capacity to 35,000 should an extended stay in the Premiership ensue.

The FA should take note before such restrictions become the norm. Away fans are integral to a great atmosphere inside any ground; and whilst clubs may wish their own fans to get priority, the FA Cup remains special for a reason. An away day against opposition from a league or two higher remains one of those, for now.

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