Rival fans from Liverpool and Manchester United will work together with other trusts and the Football Supporters' Federation to campaign for a maximum away ticket price in the Premier League, following Manchester City's decision to send back a third of their allocation for Sunday's match at Arsenal.
The FSF and Supporters Direct are in the process of arranging formal meetings between fan groups in the top flight, to lobby the Premier League and its clubs to introduce a £20-£25 cap for away games. City sent back 912 tickets, priced at £62, for this weekend's match at the Emirates Stadium.
Premier League rules state that away fans must be charged the same price for the same match as home supporters. However, Malcolm Clarke, the FSF president, believes fans have had enough and increased TV revenue from next season should result in lower costs.
"Though we have our club rivalries, what we recognise is that without the rival sets of supporters inside a ground the atmosphere is much poorer," he said. "We're going to be launching a campaign within a few weeks, we will be calling for a maximum ticket price in the Premier League for away fans.
"Next season they could knock off £32 from every single ticket, for every single game, for every single supporter in the Premier League and still have the same amount of money that they have this season because of the TV income."
Supporters of both Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham routinely get charged the highest category prices to attend away matches while followers of other sides are able to pay less. Indeed, Stoke City fans will each pay £32.50 when they go to Arsenal next month.
Liverpool play at the Emirates in two weeks. The club expect to sell their allocation but the consensus from supporters is that they are being exploited for their loyalty and dedication. The group Spirit of Shankly believes opposing supporters need to unite if away ticket prices are to be capped. "We are trying to get supporters of all clubs around the table," a spokesman said. "Liverpool fans aren't going to change it on their own. At the moment we're a mid-table club still paying category A prices."
Paul Martin, a committee member for the group, added: "We're looking at working with the arch enemy Manchester United and others to put a bit of pressure on the clubs to introduce a cap for prices on away tickets. Everybody jokes about Manchester United fans being from outside of Manchester but the core of them are from the Manchester area. The rivalry will start to dwindle when the prices are driving local people away from the game."
The Manchester United Supporters Trust chief executive, Duncan Drasdo, said the key issue is the disparity in prices, with fans of bigger clubs paying more compared to others.
He said: "The attack on traditional football fan culture continues relentlessly but until recently away support remained as at least one bastion of hard-core support which had remained largely intact.
"However, the threat to the away fan is very clear now and this should concern even the most self serving of club owners as the large vocal away following has long been a hugely attractive aspect of British football.
"If the home club wishes to charge different prices to home fans depending on the opposition that isn't unreasonable but to charge one set of away fans a higher price than another is clearly inequitable.
"Price categorisation for away fans should be outlawed and this is something MUST has been lobbying for. It has brought together arch rivals such as Manchester United and Liverpool fans who both recognise the essential importance of genuine vocal away fans to the culture of English football."
Arsenal supporters have been increasingly vocal in protest of high ticket prices. The most expensive season ticket at the club is £1,955 while the dearest individual matchday ticket is £126. However, for games that are regarded as "category C", namely Sunderland, Southampton, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, Reading and Norwich City, a ticket can be purchased for £25.
Tim Payton of the Arsenal Supporters' Trust defended the City fans who will not attend Sunday's game and said that without away supporters inside the stadium the "product" of the Premier League would be seriously harmed. "The away fan is disproportionately important. They create the noise, tribalism and the atmosphere, all part of this wonderful product that is the Premier League. Every fan is important but without the away fans you get a tepid atmosphere. The problem with this categorisation is for the away fan, if you follow Arsenal, a Chelsea or a Manchester City you'll get clobbered everywhere you go."
A survey into the price of football conducted last year found that the cost of the cheapest adult ticket in the Football League had risen by 11.7%, more than five times the rate of inflation. With travel and refreshment costs also rising, and the most expensive matchday programme costing £4, a large number of supporters feel that they are being priced out of watching their side.
Martin has followed Liverpool home and away for 12 years but is considering missing a match for the first time during that period due to the cost of a ticket at Arsenal. He says that per year, with a season ticket, it costs £2,000 in admission fees to watch Liverpool at home and on the road, and giving a conservative estimation believes he pays more than £1,000 in other costs throughout the campaign. "I don't think I'm going to buy a ticket for Arsenal. It's £62, the price is just unbelievable, more than double what it should be. This will be the first time in 12 seasons I've seen a price of a ticket and thought I'm not going to get one. Arsenal is not a £62 experience. You'd consider that as a price for an FA Cup final ticket."
However, the Premier League insisted that attendances are still high and that the quality of stadiums in the top division has greatly improved. "Ticket pricing is a matter for individual clubs, many of which work hard to fill their stadiums with offers at different points during a season that make top flight football accessible to large numbers of fans," a spokesman said. "The quality and safety of stadia is as a result of extensive and continued investment from the clubs. Fans clearly enjoy the environment in which they watch Premier League matches and the football on offer with occupancy rates at grounds tracking at 95% for this season and having been 90%+ for the last 15 seasons in a row."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Steenbergs