Ticket to Ride

BILLY'S CONTRACT is worked up about tickets

For it was written, some say even fixed, that Pools would inevitably meet South Shields in the qualifying round of the FA Cup proper. It was common knowledge that due to the small capacity of Shields' Mariner Park ground that Pools would only receive a limited number of tickets for their travelling away support and that many fans would be left disappointed and unable to make the journey up the A19. 

What did come as a surprise was that Pools announced that only 409 tickets would be available for sale. I use the word surprise as York, who played Shields in the previous round, had an allocation of just under 500 tickets. The common feeling among many supporters was that Pools received the same number of tickets as the Minstermen but these were distributed to sponsors and within 'the club' itself.

I desperately wanted to attend this match, for several reasons. Apart from the match itself it was an excuse of having a couple of sherbets with my son who lives down the road in The Heed. I also have a very good pal who supports Shields and it would have been good to have the craic with him before the match, after which we would have headed down to Ocean Road, the curry capital of the North East, for an Indian.* Having said that, I had no intention whatsoever of getting up at daft o'clock in the morning to to queue for a ticket to ensure my place on the terraces at Mariners Park.

On the day the tickets went on general release I arrived at the Vic around 9.45, did a quick head count and reckoned that there were around 150 fans patiently stood in the queue, which extended thirty feet into the club's car park. Under the impression that it was one ticket per person I reckoned that I would have a ticket in my grubby little pandies within the hour.

Whilst standing 'In Line' as our colonial cousins would say, we heard that the ticket office had opened half an hour earlier than advertised but even so the queue was hardly moving at all and when it did move it was at a snail's pace. One could not help noticing that many fans who had left the ticket office had purchased more than one ticket, in fact I saw one lad stuffing about half a dozen of them into his wallet.

It was only when I got talking to a well known Monkey Business contributor whom I won't name, (but for convenience's sake let's call him/her 'Mr'. Running Monkey), that I learned that many fans ahead of him in the queue were purchasing tickets en masse on behalf other season ticket holders who had passed on their season tickets to save queueing themselves.

On the face of it this seems a laudable act, purchasing tickets on behalf of friends and family, particularly for those who travel the length and breadth of this great country to follow their team but were unable to get to the ticket office on the day due to work and other commitments. The flip side to this was that those who were actually in the queue, many who likewise travel far and wide to see Pools (the lad stood behind me had travelled down from Northumberland), were then put at at a distinct disadvantage on two counts:

1 In effect those fans who were actually stood in the queue were penalised by having to wait even longer than necessary whilst the ticket office had to process and confirm the names and addresses of those fans who were being issued with tickets and were not present in the queue.

2 More importantly it also meant that fans who had queued for several hours were penalised yet again as this lessened their chances of obtaining a ticket.

After an hour we had reached the reception area of Pools' offices. Some disquiet amongst those in line arose when several Poolies who had got their ticket(s) told us that we were wasting our time staying and might as well go home as there were not many tickets left, which did not go down well at all. So much so that a couple of lads beside me went into the reception to ask if they could check if there was any point in their waiting. They were allegedly informed by the lady that she was too busy to check (This could have turned nasty after having stood for two hours, particularly had the weather been inclement).  Surely it would not have been too hard for her to wander down the corridor and ask the girls in the ticket office how many tickets that they had left, and do a quick head count and advise fans either to stay or go.
"would they have been allowed to purchase all 409 tickets in one felt swoop if they had had the necessary season tickets to cover them?"

I managed to persuade a young lad who was stood behind me, and who was all set to give it up as a bad job, to hang on, as he would kick himself if he later found that he had missed out. I also added that he would probably kick me if he did in fact get a ticket and see Pools get beat off Shields. After waiting an hour and fifty minutes I finally made it into the ticket office thinking that it would be ironic, having waited so long, to fall at the last hurdle and hear "sorry that's it, they have all gone". For a second I thought that was going to be the case, as the girl who was about to serve the lad in front of me was told by her colleague to turn her computer off.

For a brief second, I got same the feeling as those in the lifeboats when they witnessed the lights going out on the Titanic. Thankfully as it turned out they were only rebooting the system. I estimated that that I managed to get one of the last few tickets available as I then heard one of the girls say that she was on to her last book. HUFC and issuing tickets do not sit comfortably together. Not a great track record over the years to say the least.

It has to be said that it was a masterstroke when the club decided to outsource ticket sales for the play off final at Cardiff in 2015 otherwise many of us would still be waiting to get them. Firstly I would like it to be put on record, that this is not a criticism of the sales personnel in the ticket office, whom I have always found pleasant and helpful, but of the, let's say the admin backroom department within the club.

Two suggestions:

For big cup matches or ones with small ticket allocations such as the Shields game, the club should as a matter of course open the ticket office at 8.30 am or 9 am at the latest. I cannot understand the concept of opening at 10 am. Most people in the real world will have done three hours work by then. It would mean a couple of hours less standing/camping time for people like those who camped outside The Vic for the Shields tickets at two in the morning.

Communication. Intermittently someone from within the club should monitor any large queues and advise fans roughly how many tickets are left or how long it will be before they are likely to be served. Although it would be nice, I am not suggesting that they provide courtesy tea and biscuits to waiting fans, but some form of communication, no matter how basic, could allay any frustration that might be building up. As the ticket allocation was so small for the South Shields game they should have been issued one, two top whack, max per person. When asked why they were issuing more than one ticket per person the girl in the office replied that they did not think that they would sell them all ...obviously knows her fan base.

It was said that the first two people in the queue purchased 14 tickets between them. That is 3.5% of Pools' ticket allocation. I wonder would they have been allowed to purchase all 409 tickets in one felt swoop if they had had the necessary season tickets to cover them? Knowing Pools I think the answer might have been yes.

* Turned out he didn't get to the match after all as Shields had sold all their tickets. That didn't prevent us enjoying our post-match curry. I offered to treat my mate to a sweet but the waiter told me there was no direct Indian translation for 'humble pie', so he had ice cream instead.