Tales from a Non-League Chairman – Part 6 – No health warning for away fans


Bank Holiday Monday and the Rooks are off down the A27 for a local derby  against our friends from Bognor Regis Town.  Our record on the road hasn’t been that great this season, with just three wins away from The Dripping Pan.  That doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of our loyal away fans.  Even an away trip on a Tuesday in early January to Leiston, the most remote place on the Ryman Premier League map, still saw a hardcore of our fans make the trip, more in hope rather than confidence based on our form this season.  Based on our last two seasons visits to our closest rivals, the Rooks will be cheered on by around 75 fans today, around about the same number that followed Lewes to VCD Athletic last week.  Whilst that may not sound like a bit absolute number, compare it to our average home crowd.

IMG_3423We currently average 486 fans at The Dripping Pan.  Let’s be generous and say 36 of those are away fans (and I am being very generous for 70% of the clubs in our league) meaning our regular, average home support is 450 fans.  So a support on the road of 75 is 17%.  How many sides, whether Premier League, Football League or Non-League could boast 17% of their home attendance follow their side on the road?  Granted, there are a few clubs, but having seen away followings from Football League clubs in some instances not reaching three figures I’d say that Non-League fans are just as passionate as their bigger brothers.  But the difference between the two sets of fans is realism.

There seems to be a growing trend of professional clubs, in some kind of misguided knee-jerk reactionary way, to offer fans a refund should their side fail to perform on the pitch away from home.  The beauty of football, especially in the Non-Leagues is that sometimes anything can happen.  Should we come away from Bognor Regis Town with a sore backside after a spanking, we will dust ourselves down, ready for the game next weekend away at Metropolitan Police.  Sure, the Fans Forum will go into overdrive for a few days but most of our fans keep a sense of perspective.  But the one thing they will never start demanding is a refund.

Gary Andrews, one of the best football writers in the land, recently wrote a piece in When Saturday Comes about this growing trend a few months ago.  We’ve all been to away games where it seems it has only been the fans who have turned up, but that’s what we sign up for as football fans – crushing disappointment and more than not, a great day out spoilt by 90 minutes of turgid football.

So why do clubs feel the need to offer such gestures? In some ways, the offer to refund the fans, such as the gesture made by the Sunderland players after they lost 8-0 to Southampton, rumoured to be in the region of £60k, highlights the huge golf between the wages the players earn and the world the fan lives in.  Assuming 20 people contributed, how many people could afford to simply donate £3k as a penance for doing their job poorly once?  Likewise, what would have happened if that result would have occurred at The Stadium of Light in front of 40,000? Would the fans have been compensated then? I doubt it.

Daniel Taylor, the Guardian football writer, wrote in the aftermath of Millwall’s defeat to Bradford, which resulted in the travelling Lions fans being offered a refund, that buying a football ticket never comes with a guarantee of performance.  Last season West Ham were humiliated away from home not once, but twice in a matter of days in front of the TV cameras and a global audience at Nottingham Forest and Manchester City (not forgetting a similar performance live on TV at West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup back in February). Perhaps it was because of the low expectations of the fans under Allardyce, Sullivan and Gold but there were no calls for refunds, nor were any forthcoming for the 5-0 and 6-0 drubbings.

In the same vein, perhaps teams who travel to the likes of Stamford Bridge, The Etihad or Old Trafford should refund their fans if they win against the odds? You won’t find many Bradford City fans complaining that they humiliated Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, yet if they had lost 7 or 8 nil perhaps they would have been clamouring for their money back?

We’ve seen our share of poor away day displays in the last few years but even the wrath of Big Deaksy’s Saturday night tweets haven’t yet called for refunds for the Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  A 5-0 half time score line a few years ago on a chilly Monday night at Wealdstone had Cynical Dave shouting more about the lack of dry roasted peanuts than the abject performance on the pitch, whilst the three goals in the first ten minutes scored by Oxford City in November’s FA Trophy game saw the fans moaning about the lack of chips rather than the defending.  Non-League fans travel more in hope than expectation, and that is why a call for refunds will fall on deaf ears.  I did try to placate a few of the fans who made the trip to Witham Town in the FA Cup back in September with an offer of a beer in lieu of the shocking 4-2 defeat although with only Fosters and John Smiths on offer in their club bar, few took up the option.  As the famous strap line goes for financial products, past results are no guarantee of future performance.

IMG_3642After the last gasp defeat on Saturday against Harrow Borough, our league status was still precarious as we headed westwards to Bognor.  A defeat and we would be sucked right into the relegation mire.  A win, and whisper this quietly, we could rise to 15th in the league which would be our highest league position since the opening day of the season.

Bognor Regis 1 Lewes 2 – Nywood Lane – Monday 6th April 2015
The pre-match mood in Wetherspoons, Bognor Regis’s premium tourist attraction, was upbeat.  Despite our poor away form, there was something in the air that we simply put down to Romain Fever.  Elliott had been missing for the past six games after his mad five minutes at Canvey Island saw him pick up potentially the goal of the season award for a stunning strike, his 15th yellow card and then his second red.  Young George Brook had seen the signs in his morning cereal – Lewes to win 2-0 with Elliott and Wheeler to score the goals.

IMG_3643With the shirt-sleeves in order for the first time since August last year, Lewes produced possibly their best away display of the season, despite arriving with a depleted squad.  Injuries during the game to Chris Breach and Aarron Hopkinson meant that The Rooks finished the game with three 17 year olds on the pitch, valiantly defending a single goal lead.  After a first half full of huff and puff without much in the way of goal mouth action, the second burst into life just three minutes after the restart.

A deep cross saw the Bognor Regis keeper Winterton overstretch and drop the ball at the feet of Blewden who reacted quickly, hooking the ball back for Romain to head home.  One became two three minutes later when Romain turned his marker from a quickly taken throw-in and slotted home at the far post.  The Lewes fans behind the goal were pinching themselves.  Away goals have been at a premium this season and this was only the third time we had scored more than once away from home.  A glance at the in-play league table saw us hit the heady heights of 15th. Our work was done.  All we had to do was defend for 39 minutes like our lives depended on it.

It was inevitable that ex-Rook Terry Dodd would pay us back for letting him go in the Autumn as he pulled a goal back with thirty minutes to go.  Lewes rode the pressure and could have scored a third themselves when Hopkinson’s shot flashed across the edge of the box.  Then with five minutes to go, disaster.  Dodd was adjudged to have been fouled by Elphick in the box.  Lewes Assistant Manager Dave Jupp suggested to Rikki Banks that Prior would hit the ball to his left.  He dived left and saved magnificently.

The drama wasn’t over.  In injury time, Elphick was penalised again, this time on the line of the penalty box.  Prior had to content with a solid wall of red and black but still managed to curl it around them but the ball cannoned off the post.  Full time.

IMG_3650There would be no calls for refunds tonight.  “Well done Mr Chairman” was the first text I saw when I looked at my phone (Thanks Mum).  It had been a difficult 24 hours as a couple of others at the club would atest to.  But tactics, passion and above all believe had won the day.

 

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Just the (fake) ticket


2014 promises to be another great year of global sport.  This summer we have the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to look forward to as well as the Commonwealth Games which is being hosted by Glasgow.  The feel-good factor generated by the 2012 Olympic Games has already been felt in Scotland with over 90% of the tickets for the 11 days of action already sold, and expectations of a complete sell out of the games is on the cards.

Technology is a wonderful thing and has made ticketing for major events so much easier.  Barcodes and Q-Codes allow immediate security and verification of the authenticity of a ticket and the identification of the holder.  Print at home technology means that tickets bought a few seconds ago on the other side of the world can be in your hand within seconds, meaning significant reductions in the handling and administration costs of ticketing events, as well as issues that arise when tickets go astray.

But unfortunately, technology has also driven up the number of criminals who see big events as big opportunities to make big bucks.  Major events, concerts and shows a decade ago were blighted by the spectre of ticket touts, who would acquire tickets at knock-down prices from Corporate Sponsors who had little interest in attending events, and sell them at inflated prices outside the venues.  Many of us have stories of picking up bargains in this way, only to see the name of a Multinational company on the ticket.  During the 2006 World Cup there were stories of football fans buying tickets outside one stadium in Germany that saw them sitting in the highly-secure area reserved for the VIPs and visiting foreign dignitaries.

For the really big events such as the FIFA World Cup, rogue ticketing companies launch websites on a weekly basis, listing events where demand far outstripped supply and simply take people’s money and never deliver any goods.  They have a window of opportunity thanks to the delays in dispatching the official tickets to make their cash.  For most events, tickets are not printed and dispatched until around 60 days prior to an event, by which time the criminals will have packed up shop and more than likely have moved onto the next big event.

In a recent report issued by the City of London Police, they estimate that the UK is home to over 1,000 ticket touts who are responsible for contributing over £40 million to organised criminal networks per annum.  Unfortunately, the recovery of that cash is virtually impossible. One in seven of us have been unwitting victims of bogus ticketing websites, according to their report.

Organisations such as FIFA, The International Olympic Committee and the Lawn Tennis Association spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in trying to prevent both genuine tickets falling into criminal hands or simply criminals setting up businesses to commit fraud.  In the run up to the London Olympics in 2012, a specialist police unit, known as Operation Podium was set up to great effect.  In the 18 months prior to the start of the games the team shut down a number of high profile sites that had been offering fake tickets and criminal charges were imposed on the men behind the scams.  Despite there being only one authorised ticket seller in the UK, the Operation Podium team identified over 200 unauthorised websites and eight that were set up specifically for fraudulent purposes.  Unfortunately, with tickets for events being so scarce, buyers were forced onto the secondary market which created favourable conditions for fraudsters, especially with websites that were well designed, ranked high on search engines and mimicked the official website. One high profile case involved the website http://2012-londonsummergames.com which was reported to have defrauded over 400 people for a total of over €500,000 in just five weeks. The owner of the site was sentenced to four years imprisonment in 2011.

In addition, the ticketing team behind the London Olympics, headed by Paul Williamson took the unusual step of reaching out to the more commonly known Ticket Touts.  They made it clear in no uncertain terms that their presence would be very unwelcome at any Olympic events and the full force of the law and tax authorities would be used should anyone be found plying their trade during the games.  In total 220 arrests were made during the Olympic and Paralympic games in London with an almost zero tolerance approach taken that certainly detracted many from chancing their arm.

The Operation Podium team conducted 19 separate operations designed to identify and shut down fraudulent websites selling tickets for a variety of events in the UK.  Whilst there is legislation in place to prevent reselling of many different types of sporting tickets (such as the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006), other events are not so lucky.  Two years ago Take That announced a series of concerts to mark their reunion.  The police knew of a small number of unlicensed websites that were planning on offering tickets, but within hours of the tickets being made available they were tracking hundreds of new websites, all offering tickets.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of these were fake and only shut down after damage had been done in terms of stealing fans money and damaging the reputation of the band through association.  The authorities are already predicting that the current craze around One Direction will see hundreds more websites pop up as their sell-out world stadium tour kicks off in a few months.

Come June time the eyes of the world will be firmly on Brazil who will be hosting the 20th FIFA World Cup.  So far over 1.1 million tickets have been sold through official channels, with a number of further phases to come.  Come tournament time and the greatest show on earth is bound to be played out in front of capacity stadiums.  Once again, huge demand coupled with scarce supply means football fans who are heading to Brazil will take a risk on trying to find alternative methods to get their match tickets.  A simple search for the term “Brazil World Cup Tickets” on Google throws up over 38 million results, with some organisations who have no official link to FIFA or the organising committee stating that they can “provide authentic tickets for all games” or “guarantee best tickets”.

The danger here is that tickets will not be produced until close to the start of the tournament meaning that fake ticketing websites will have already collected hard-earned cash from unsuspecting football fans and disappeared into the virtual wilderness before buyers realise that they have been duped.

In previous tournaments there was a way to acquire tickets through a travel package.  Many organisations hedged their bets that they would receive tickets closer to the tournament and sold expensive travel packages to desperate fans.  In many instances the flights and hotel bookings were real, but the tickets never materialised.  Some travel companies were victims just as much as the individuals were, never receiving the tickets that had paid for.  However, many simply used the cover of adding the extra value of travel to line their pockets even more.  For the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year there are no official travel package partnership and thus no organisation is allowed to offer a package of travel and tickets.

Despite promises to crack down on the practice, there hasn’t been a major tournament in recent memory where you couldn’t pick up Sponsors tickets in the run up to the kick off outside the stadium.  In Portugal’s 2004 European Championship I collected almost the full set of “official” sponsors names on tickets I bought outside stadiums, right under the noses of the police.  The memorable TV adverts prior to France ’98 and Belgium/Holland 2000 of the lone England fan being turned away at the gate because his name didn’t match what was on the ticket was a romantic notion.  In reality, the queues and chaos getting into the grounds meant no security checks could take place.  In Germany 2006 I was actually asked for ID after turning up late for a game and the stewards had nothing better to do, but on the other hand when I asked about spare tickets at another venue during the same tournament at the official ticket booth I was pointed in the direction of the Corporate entrance and told to ask people outside there.

Prior to the last World Cup in South Africa in 2010, one of the most respected names on the Internet, Symantec published a report that highlighted the problems major sporting events bring. They saw a massive increase in cybercrime, especially from traditional 419 Scams relating to fake competition winners in the run up to the competition as people desperate to watch the games were willing to explore any avenue to get their hands on tickets. The number of spam-related or phishing emails increased to over 25% of the global spam emails.

“Right now, spammers are reliant on the massive wave of excitement and expectation that typically surrounds an event like the FIFA World Cup,” said MessageLabs Intelligence Senior Analyst, Paul Wood at the time. “Riding this wave, spammers get the attention of their victims by offering products for sale or enticing them to click on a link. It is not uncommon for the event to appear in the subject line of an email but for the body of the same email to be completely unrelated.”

Symantec have already highlighted a number of websites that have been designed to look like official FIFA World Cup Sponsor websites in order to trick users into handing over personal details in return for the promise of big prizes, the biggest one leveraging the name of Brazilian payment card operator CIELO which has been used for a phishing scam.  In addition, one particular company who have been featured on BBC’s Rip Off Britain in the past are selling tickets for many World Cup games including the highly anticipated Germany versus Portugal game starting from €599 per ticket.  Ticketing expert Reg Walker, interviewed in the national media in January felt that World Cup fraud may be as high as £15 million.

Marketing 101


On Tuesday morning, like every morning, I started the day with a look at my email. Such is the modern world, and the joys of working within the Internet Services Market for a global company that the motto “if you snooze, you lose” has become one of our core values. As usual after discovering my online bank has been accessed and I need to “log in” to restore my access, that my penis can actually grow by 6 inches in just 28 days and of course the happiest news that I have won the Spanish lottery AGAIN, I get to the GroupOn emails. The whole social discounting model is a great thing for consumers. Crap for retailer, but good for consumers.

People who buy these deals (and can jump through the respective hoops to actually use the voucher) do so because they are being offered something at a bargain price. They are rarely for things that you would normally pay full price for – hence why the retailers turn to GroupOn to fill capacity. Deals such as hotel breaks for 50% off (or more) become good deals, but few, if any, people would think that the deal/hotel was that good that they would return and pay full price. That is the fundamental issue with the whole concept. GroupOn (and other sites such as LivingSocial.com) are great for a one-off, but building loyalty is another issue.

I am used to seeing Fulham and Crystal Palace appearing on my GroupOn offers timeline. £10 tickets for Palace on a Friday night (“limit: 100 per person”) have made me smirk in the past. Few, if any people would take up the offer and return for future games paying full price (otherwise why wouldn’t they have bought for this game?). I would have thought that there are other ways to market tickets to niche sectors without having to resource to such drastic price cutting measures.

But today I was very surprised. West Ham were the “deal of the day” and before anyone says it, yes it was a slow new offer day. Tickets for West Ham v Watford (7th March 2012) were £40 for two (and £60 for 3, £80 for 4). As if that wasn’t enough to entice you in, the highlights included the fact it was “Close to Upton Park tube”. I am aware of the offers the club has been involved with so far in 2012 – discounted tickets for buying pizza in Dartford and leaflet drops in Charlton Athletic and Millwall supporter areas to name just two. But is this the right move for the club? And what are the issues of going down this route? To me it is three-fold. Continue reading

Olympic spirit


Last October I wrote about the farce of holding the Summer Olympics football tournament in such ridiculous venues, grounds that were too big and come the start of the games would be half empty at best.  Last Friday the organising committee (Logoc) announced the results of the public ballot for tickets for all event.  Well, actually most people knew if they had tickets or not because of the farcical way in which the process has been handled.

In their email to the unlucky million plus applicants they said:-

“Demand for tickets greatly exceeded supply in the sessions and price categories you applied for. Where sessions were oversubscribed, we undertook a random ballot to allocate tickets in the fairest possible way. We had applications for more than 20 million tickets, seeing huge demand across many sports. Two-thirds of all price categories were oversubscribed and went to ballot.”

The initial statement the Logoc put out at the start of the application process was that there was 6.6million tickets up for grabs. This proved not to be exactly true.  In fact 5.5million were available in the first public ballot – a staggering difference that in other circumstances would see our media crying “foul”.  Out of these 5.5million, 3.2million were allocated in the ballot leaving 2.3million left ready for the second phase that is a “first come, first serve” with priority to those who missed out first time round from Friday 24 June.  As if that wasn’t a hard enough kick in the teeth, it was announced that it would be via Ticketmaster, a company who had not exactly covered themselves in glory in the past in having enough bandwidth to handle the demand for tickets.

The statement seemed fair enough until to investigate what sports are left to try and get tickets for.  Of the 2.3million tickets left you have a choice from twenty three events, but a staggering 1.7million tickets still remain for the Football. By 1pm today (Friday 24th June) only tickets for Wrestling, Weightlifting, Boxing and  Volleyball remained….oh and of course the Football. So it looks like your only chance to see anything of the Olympics if you haven’t already got your tickets is to apply for tickets for the football*

July 2012?

Out of the 58 games to be played in the tournament in six randomly distributed venues on 13 days, how many do you think have sold out?  One – the final of the mens tournament.  In total there are 137 different pricing segments in the football, of which only 14 have sold out.  In fact if you still want tickets you can apply for a maximum of 30 still in all but 6 games. Continue reading