A LETTER from Alex Ferguson to Manchester United supporters urging they behave at Anfield on Saturday has nothing to do with the recent Patrice Evra incident last October. Suggestions from some that Liverpool should now follow suit are either ill-advised, lazy or an attempt to stir up a bit more trouble.
When Manchester United played at Anfield last season in Liverpool’s 3-1 win the behaviour of the visiting supporters led to the Ground Safety Advisory group recommending a cut in allocation for their next visit. The group compared behaviour by away supporters at a different Anfield fixtures with that of the visit from the Old Trafford side and felt there were safety issues in the way the Manchester United fans conducted themselves.
As a result of this the group recommended the visitors have their allocation cut from 3,015 to 1,965, primarily as an attempt to deal with the issue of the blocking of gangways. The Group said:
“Pictures were presented which showed how the gangways at that game were affected compared to a similar high-profile game where persistent standing also occurred. The actions of the Manchester United supporters had overwhelmed the reasonable operations of the stewards through the management plan.”
“This is an escalation of the actions of the supporters from previous games. It is not clear what more the club can reasonably do through stewarding measures to ensure spectators do not encroach in to gangways.”
The report pointed out that the issue they were raising wasn’t persistent standing but the way that many of the supporters weren’t standing near their own seats and instead were blocking gangways:
“Spectators from other away clubs attending the ground also persistently stand. However they do not spread out in to the gangways to the same extent that the Manchester United spectators do.”
The City Council took those concerns on board and United’s allocation was cut for the October visit.
This weekend the two sides meet again at Anfield, but this time in The FA Cup. For FA Cup fixtures there is a requirement under competition rules for significantly more tickets to be made available to travelling supporters than for a league game, and although there was an improvement in the conduct of the away supporters in October the City Council have once again imposed conditions on Liverpool in terms of selling tickets to the visitors.
Stephen Clare, the principal licensing officer for the council, said recently:
“We have taken into account the improvement of the Manchester United supporters at the most recent Premier League fixture relating to the blocking of gangways and aisles. Migration was still occurring to the rear of the stand but not to the extent of previous years.
“However, due to the large increase in capacity for this fixture we’ve deemed it necessary to inform the club that two seats from either side of the radial gangways from the top to the bottom of the terrace should not be sold for safety reasons. This will be in addition to the normal segregation line that was in place for the most recent FA Cup tie, where the Anfield Road stand abuts the Lower Centenary Stand.”
He was unable to state what that would mean in terms of the final allocation:
“Liverpool FC will be responsible for determining the actual numbers that this will result in.”
Eventually the number made available to the travelling fans was 5,319, a massive increase on the number allocated for the league match but still some way short of the 15% that FA Cup rules would normally allow. Anfield’s full capacity is 45,276 which would mean 6,791 tickets for away supporters based on that FA rule – but that is the full capacity without any reduction in available seats due to segregation.
Manchester United were clearly concerned by the behaviour of their supporters, sending out a letter with the tickets they sold in October and another with the tickets they sold for this fixture. Sent in Alex Ferguson’s name, the latest letter urged their fans to respect Liverpool stadium staff and not to block the aisles and gangways:
“I wrote to fans attending the away match in October urging them to co-operate with stewards and officials at Liverpool so we can make a strong case for restoring our allocation for future United games at Anfield. The fans did almost everything asked of them that day and as a result, we have a much improved allocation for this important FA Cup tie.
“Please do everything you can to continue that good work and protect next season’s allocation by: Going to the seat that you’ve bought; Not blocking aisles and gangways; Respecting the stewards; Following the ground regulations
“FA Cup ties are tense affairs at the best of times. Add in the fact that Manchester United against Liverpool is the biggest game around and it becomes even more so. Your support is vital to the team and down the years that has been especially true at Anfield. But please put the emphasis on getting us into the next round and giving the sort of support you are famous for – positive, witty and loud.
“Thank you in advance for your co-operation.”
This letter, quite clearly, is part of an effort by Manchester United to restore the reputation of their supporters in the eyes of the external bodies that deal with safety and licensing at games at Anfield. Alex Ferguson’s letter to his team’s fans is urging they don’t repeat the bad behaviour displayed for a number of years when they have had an allocation of over 2,000 at Anfield. Fixtures where the behaviour of the visiting supporters has, even at Youth level, included sick and offensive chanting for which there is no justification. The last message, and reduction in allocation, seems to have worked – at least in terms of safety.
The message from Old Trafford has nothing whatsoever to do with the Patrice Evra – Luis Suarez incident but already there are efforts being made in some quarters to imply it is – and that Liverpool now need to make a similar gesture to their own supporters. If Liverpool’s allocation at Anfield had been cut – by external agencies concerned about safety in light of previous incidents involving its supporters behaviour at Anfield – there is every likelihood that the club would send such a message out to supporters.
As it stands there is absolutely no reason for Liverpool to send out such a letter to its fans.