‘Who in their right mind would pay £17 to see Newport County against Aston Villa Under-21’s?’
UPDATED: 1/08/2013 with video
There was always something a bit odd about the proposed friendly between Newport County and Aston Villa.
Villa had announced their preseason fixtures against lower league opposition shortly after the end of last season, A month later, a fixture against Newport County was inserted into the schedule, with the date of the match coming two days after the final game of a three-in-six days game run for Villa against lower league teams. Preseason is about fitness, but four games in eight days is pushing it a little, isn’t it?
Still Villa supporters – especially those who reside in Wales – weren’t going to complain. Newport gleefully announced the tickets details. According to them, ‘Aston Villa have also reported a high level of interest in the game from their Ticket Office’. Apparently, Villa were expected to sell the majority of their ‘1,100 away allocation’.
Interestingly, when Aston Villa first announced the ticket details to their supporters on their website a mere three days later, the allocation was less than half of what was stated on the Newport website. It appeared, to get one of the now shrunken ticket allocation of 500 wasn’t going to be easy either; the detailed list of qualification criteria didn’t even stretch down to general sale.
At this point, it’s also worth mentioning the price set by Newport County for this match. £17 for an adult ticket. On their own website above, they state ‘Ticket prices will be the same as last season’s Match Day prices’, as if it was some kind of inflation beating deal.
Lets look at what kind of value this represented to Newport and Villa supporters, when comparing the price to Villa’s three pre-season games against lower league teams, that were played the week before their fixture with Newport:
Wycombe Wanderers – £10
Luton Town – £10
Crewe Alexandra – £8
[Ask yourself, from everything stated so far, does it seem like the Villa Under-21’s are incoming?]
The day before the game at Rodney Parade, I watched an interview with the Newport chairman saying he was hoping that Villa would play several first team players. That’s when the alarm bells rang. Lambert had been traveling to all friendlies with a first team squad – why would the Newport chairman even mention such a concern?
It was only upon seeing the Villa team line-up and it’s ‘Under-21 team’ label on the club’s official Facebook page on game day, that MOMS finally realised the friendly wasn’t all it seemed. How come ourselves and many other fans on both sides were surprised by this team line-up? While we had our suspicions that this wouldn’t be a strong Villa team, we were genuinely surprised by the fact it was suddenly labeled an ‘Under-21’ outing.
To the supporters who had bought a ticket – this was not the match they had paid for. Who in their right mind would pay £17 to see Newport County against Aston Villa Under-21’s?
Newport County in setting the price at £17 and dangling the prospect of the likes of Christian Benteke playing (see video below), plus, hyping up the amount of Villa fans coming, to give the fixture apparent legitimacy, were definitely guilty of misleading their fans.
Charging an over-the-odds ticket price for a friendly game exaggerated the situation. If the game was less than a tenner, then it wouldn’t be such a big deal, as there can be no guarantees in friendly line-ups. This price was giving the game expectation of being an ‘event’.
It was no surprise to see the Daily Mail (and other press) pick on the disgruntlement of Newport supporters at the Villa line-up with their headline of ‘Who? Fans fork out £17 to see unknown Villa reserve side despite top flight club ‘confirming’ they would play stars’.
Had Villa confirmed such stars or first team players? The Newport boss Justin Edinburgh seemed to think so, claiming Villa had “gone against what they said”. Going on to say:
‘Whilst you can never be certain in pre-season due to changes of plans, schedules, fitness and the progress of players, what sort of side any team will field, Villa have confirmed that the squad they bring will contain a presence of Premiership experience.’
If Villa made such a promise, then it’s not good form reneging on it. But, it seems that Newport’s approach to the whole fixture was based on the hope of Villa playing first team players. Looking at Villa’s cluster of fixtures in the week leading up to the game, especially with the fact Villa had played a game less than 48 hours before the fixture, only confirms this.
Yet, Villa didn’t object to Newport’s marketing of the game as a standard pre-season friendly and seemed to play along.
It’s been noted that the Newport County friendly didn’t appear in the fixtures on the club’s website, but this is hardly any mitigation when the club on every ticket office update, were selling the Newport game as a normal friendly fixture right up to announcing the Villa team line-up.
If the Villa marketing team were as sure as they seem in hindsight that this was a ‘Development squad fixture’, why didn’t they make that clear on their website, when selling £17 tickets? And why not be upfront with Newport over the team that was traveling to Wales? It would have avoided them being accused of ripping off Newport fans in the press, when in actual fact, it was Newport that were clearly to blame for leading their own supporters on.
It’s not that hard to advertise a game for what it really is. This month, non-league Lincoln City had arranged pre-season friendlies against Sunderland and Middlesborough, but in the honest spirit of full disclosure, both games had been clearly advertised by the Imps as being against ‘Under-21’ opposition.
So why weren’t Newport and Aston Villa capable of doing that too?
Greed? That might have had something to do with it.
*Both clubs will be sent this article and evidence to have an opportunity to explain to supporters what happened. The Football Supporters Federation have also been notified.
My Old Man Said (MOMS) is an award-winning football blog & podcast. MOMS is also on the National Council of the Football Supporters Federation (FSF) and has been to Parliament, the Premier League offices and beyond in addressing supporter issues. UTV