Michael Baggaley: Fans are put first for Britannia battle
TWO days after Manchester City fans were charged a wallet-busting £62 to watch their team play in the Premier League at Arsenal, it was encouraging to see Stoke adopt a more sensible approach to last night's FA Cup replay at home to Crystal Palace.
Prices were £20 adults, £10 for over-65s and just £5 for under-17s, which encouraged a crowd of 11,617 to turn up.
Had Stoke charged £62 for last night's game, it's tempting to wonder whether the entire crowd could have been housed in the dug-outs if Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway had been prepared to budge up a bit.
The fact Manchester City returned 900 of their tickets on Sunday made headlines, but frankly, we should be amazed that 2,000 Mancunians still made the trip to the Emirates.
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This is the trouble. If Tesco started charging £10 for a tin of beans you'd tell them to get stuffed and start shopping at Asda.
However, if the prices to watch your beloved football team rocket to ridiculous proportions then you're not just going to go and watch the local rivals instead.
Some fans will just grit their teeth and dig deep, just as Stoke die-hards did when they forked out £45 to watch their team at Norwich this season.
Some fans will go to any lengths. When Stoke supporters were banned from their team's game at Millwall in April 2003 for fear of crowd trouble, some intrepid City fans still made it into the New Den by elaborate subterfuge which made forging passports in the Great Escape seem like child's play.
Legend has it that when Sergei Shtaniuk scored for Stoke, a programme seller, a 52-year-old mascot and a mysterious 'guest summariser' for local radio were among those who jumped up to celebrate.
However, just because some die-hard fans will try to watch their team at any price, that doesn't mean clubs should exploit supporters by charging whatever they think they can get away with.
Football Supporters' Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke, who also happens to be a Stoke fan, has warned that thousands of supporters will stop going to games if Premier League clubs don't take a more reasonable approach.
Adult match-day prices for Premier League games at Stoke are £25, £30 or £40 depending on how attractive the fixture is deemed to be. So, not as cheap as chips but not as crazy as Arsenal either.
The Potters also deserve credit for their season-ticket prices which have not been increased since the club was promoted back to the top flight in 2008.
The issue of ticket pricing was brought up when City chief executive Tony Scholes met the fan-elected supporters' council before the Chelsea game on Saturday. On the agenda was 2013/14 season tickets, the 'early-bird' prices for which will be unveiled next month.
Council member Angela Smith said she came away encouraged. She said: "We discussed prices and I feel the club are trying to stay as competitive as they have always been.
"Tony Scholes is always at the meetings and the club are well aware of the economic climate and the problems that supporters are having. The club gave us the impression that they are well aware of the importance of having 27,000 Stoke fans at the Britannia."
AFTER the seniors had their go last night, Stoke's under-18s take part in the FA Youth Cup this evening.
The fourth-round tie against Huddersfield at the Brit (7pm) gives Stoke the chance to build on their impressive third-round performance when they demolished Brighton 4-0 at the Amex Stadium.
Stoke reached the fifth round last-season, although they were beaten 4-0 at Blackburn.
Tonight gives Stoke the chance to become the first team from the area to reach this season's fifth round. Crewe were knocked out in the third round at Rochdale and Port Vale's fourth-round tie at home to Everton last night was postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Admission for tonight's game is £3 adults or just £1 concessions.
Let's not tempt fate here, but if Stoke do get through tonight, they have been drawn away to Nottingham Forest or Rochdale in a fifth-round tie.