As the manager of a company that has operated as an agent and sub-agent for a few officially appointed clubs and companies in the UK over the last five years, I have been asked on numerous occasions for advice on the purchase of tickets/packages and guidance on what to do/not do on the actual match day.
Attending a football match in the UK is often a once-in-a-lifetime occasion – a bucket-list event if you will. Making sure the experience isn’t flawed must be most important part of your trip. It may be easy to get sucked into a price decision, but when buying your ticket consider the following:
- Unless you are visiting a match at one of the lower-ranked teams in the league (and they are not playing one of the big name teams), it is extremely or almost impossible, to purchase a ticket at the gate, or get one on their website. In the case of knockout tournaments, such as the FA Cup, this is easier, and even the big clubs (depending on the teams they are playing) will have tickets available on the day.
- Should any club list the price of a ticket on their website, it is generally the price of a ticket for a single match when bought as a season ticket (and as such, not available to you). Tickets sold on an ad hoc basis to (in this case) the foreign market, are not the same seats, and are purchased differently – meaning they are not the same price, the prices are yielded.
- Tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis. Delaying any purchase decision could result in no ticket at all.
- Delaying a purchase decision could result in a change in price of the ticket or package. Again, the tickets/packages are yielded according to demand.
- Tickets are sometimes sold as a stand-alone item but, more often than not, in packages that would include accommodation (this is very often a rule dictated by the club). There is generally more value to be had in a package as the stand-alone tickets are normally of a higher quality in the sense that they would include some kind of hospitality component.
- Consider the price of a ticket to its location in the stadium and inclusions it may have. It’s often not much extra (relatively) to upgrade the ticket and have a tremendous experience. When travelling from afar to visit the UK, it’s worth the additional price.
- Most importantly, buy your tickets from a company that has official tickets. There are not many companies in the UK with official tickets, and they have an appointed network around the world of sub-agents that sell on their behalf.
- When purchasing from a vendor, the quality and reliability of the ticket can be determined by price. The expense of the ticket is generally an indicator that more hands have handled it – and the higher the risk, unless you are buying an expensive ticket. The cheapest ticket needs researching. In this sector, whilst official tickets are not relatively expensive (only black market dealers will tell you sport is expensive), cheap (as in as cheap as on the club’s website) is a big indicator of a problem. Nobody is going to sell a ticket to a Man Utd vs Liverpool game at face value. It’s not possible, it would need to be a season ticket holder (if you know a season ticket holder I suppose it’s feasible), and that person would have to hand their season ticket (yes, it’s like a credit card) to you before the game and receive it back afterwards.
- Anyone selling tickets in the away section of a stadium is an immediate red flag. Officially, nobody can sell the away section tickets at any stadium. Those tickets are managed by the actual (away) club, and fans apply to the club for a space on busses that go straight to the away section gates of the away match.
- Group travel, comprising individuals (if you ever see a ‘based on ten/twenty people travelling’ clause), is a red flag. Generally this means third parties are involved in ticket purchases and these third parties will be traditional group operators, not sports operators – their contacts would generally involve black market purchases. This is the area were most horror stories that I have heard of, originate.
- For knock-out tournaments, if you are buying a ticket for a round that no team has qualified for yet, i.e. The FA Cup final, and the semi-final hasn’t happened yet, they are black market, and that is polite statement, as the tickets don’t physically exist yet. The only way to buy a ticket in this situation is to buy a hospitality ticket, which is easily obtainable. Normal tickets come on the market when the round/final is decided, as the FA then gives each club its allocation, those tickets are then bought by the fans. The same is true in UEFA.
- Ultimately, if you are unsure about the quality or reliability of your ticket purchase, ask the local vendor who they purchase from in the UK. Then contact the club and check if the UK vendor is an official ticket holder.
Now that you have your ticket, your scarf and your enthusiasm:
- Public transport is easy and accessible to most stadiums in the UK. The awkward stadiums (Spurs – White Hart Lane (Not Wembley) and Liverpool – Anfield) will involve a bit of a walk, but that is generally part of the experience.
- Taking or buying transfers beforehand is not recommended. Taking a taxi to the stadium is easier and no different in price, but the trick is afterwards. Trying to find anyone after 70,000 people exit Old Trafford is difficult in its own right. Hang around, wait an hour or so, things get a lot easier. This is one of the big benefits to many tickets that include some kind of hospitality – you can attend a bar in the stadium after the match.
- Try and reach the stadium in good time, the atmosphere at these events is electric. Find a local pub near the stadium, get into the Club Store (although it will be manic on match day) or enjoy some traditional English fast food at the stalls that swamp these events.
- Stadium tours do not happen on the day of matches. In fact a general rule is 12h00 the day before the match and 12h00 after the day of the match. It’s not for security (although that is a factor), it’s actually for the television crews.
- Be very aware of the actual date and time of kick-off. Approximately eight weeks prior to the match, the television companies (Sky Sports, BT, ESPN etc.) get hold of the schedule and move the games around. If you buy a ticket for a match that has not had the kick-off confirmed, you will not receive any refunds should the new date and time not work for you (Saturday games will move to Sunday or Monday).
- English fans sing. They sing in unison unlike anything you have seen at a sports event (in South Africa at least). It is a good idea to Google the fan networks of your club and update yourself on the songs they sing. Bear in mind they change quickly, according to the news over the preceding few weeks.
- You will have heard horror stories regarding safety and opposition fans. That was the 1970s and 1980s. Football stadiums are a much better place now, however, do not turn up at Newcastle’s stadium in a Middlesbrough shirt – it probably won’t be a pleasant experience (you won’t be allowed in the stadium for a start – unless you are in the away fans section). Don’t wear the colours of any opposition team – Colours in the UK means the football strip.
Most of all, go out there, have a great day and may your team win!
Updated – September 2017
Mark Buck is the Managing Director if United Europe (Pty) Ltd, a tour wholesaler based in South Africa that has and still operates as an official sub-agent to two official ticket holders of the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1. For the last eight years, NO client of United Europe’s has ever been left outside a stadium.