Not quite the ticket, say fans in student age group

Is it cheaper for Norwich City fans without season tickets to watch their team away from home than at Carrow Road?

Ticket pricing for casual seats at home games was one of the burning issues discussed at last night’s annual meeting of Norwich City Independent Supporters’ Association.

Chief executive David McNally, deputy chairman Michael Foulger and customer services manager Richard Gough – moving soon to a new post at Bolton Wanderers, it was revealed – faced an hour of questions from an audience of about 50 after the formal business of the evening was concluded.

The chief came under fire for City’s decision to scrap the concessionary ticket price band for under-21s, effectively charging full adult prices for fans in the 16 to 21 age group, though many are students unlikely to be bringing in a salary.

One student fan accused the club of injustice and of “marginalising” his generation of supporters.

Another speaker related the story of a fellow supporter in Milton Keynes who discovered that to bring his family – two adults and four children – to tomorrow’s home game against Hull City would cost �170 for tickets, plus his travel costs.

He said: “He chose not to go to the game and went to the Preston match, which for his entire family cost �60.”

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He also accused the club of making surreptitious price increases and being “mean-minded” in charging an additional �1.50 fee for transactions made online or by telephone.

Preston, of course, chose the Canaries’ visit last Saturday to slash admission prices in an effort to bring in a bumper crowd, so the comparison is not typical.

But the cost of admission at Carrow Road to “casual” supporters – a term to which many object because they may be just as passionate as the regulars but unable to attend every game because of work or distance from Norwich – has been a hot topic of conversation so far this season.

For example, adult prices for a Grade A game such as tomorrow’s against Hull start at �27 for members and �29 for non-members.

But McNally made no apology for giving priority to the interests of season ticket-holders and pointed out that the cost of an under-21 season ticket was �173 – just �7.52 a game.

“I would implore any under-21 supporter to buy a season ticket even if you don’t go to every game,” he said.

He also had an alternative view on the principle of “affordable family football” that has underpinned City’s pricing policy for nearly a decade.

“I think some of the things that have gone on here are brilliant, what the guys have in terms of developing a hungry support,” he said. “But we can’t be all things to all people. One of the biggest problems with affordable family football was that the only ones who couldn’t afford it were the football club.

“Affordable family football? It was losses, losses, losses. If we wanted this football club to be thriving we had to do something.”

Those who committed to a season ticket were entitled to the best deal, he argued.

“While I am around I will always support the season ticket base,” he said.

“We are so privileged to have 20,800 season ticket-holders. It is the envy of football, it is terrific.

“It was with a heavy heart that we put the prices up last year and, guess what, there may be increases again, if it means we balance the books.

“If you say to me I give season ticket-holders an advantage over casual supporters, I am guilty.”

“20,800 versus 5,000 – you just have to do the maths.”

The chief executive revealed that the dreaded A-word had almost become a reality for the Canaries this time last year.

“Let’s not forget where we were 12 months ago. The realism is that when the new board took control we had �23m of debt and an income plan which would not cover costs for the coming year, no way,” he said.

“We were heading for administration and we were in League One. Our �23m of debt was weighing us down and we had to think about what this great football club needed.

“We put in place a business turnaround plan. We needed to ensure we survived as a football club last autumn because it did get very close.

Administration was a real possibility last autumn.”

The club had “less than no money” and relied heavily on the support of Foulger, Delia Smith and Michael Wynn Jones, said McNally.

“We needed to sort out the football. It costs money. We had to invest in football.”

The financial results of making promotion from League One top priority would not make pretty reading, he admitted.

“We were relegated, we had to do something about getting promoted. It was the only goal so we will make a significant loss for 09-10. It’s not pretty,” he said.

“But four months in (the current financial year) and we are on track for our financial targets. The banks are very pleased with the progress the football club has made.

“The forecast for this year, despite the fact Paul Lambert has been given a competitive budget, is we are on plan for this business to wash its face on what really is the first stage of the road to recovery, because if a business can’t cover its costs it should not be in business.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, whereas last autumn we had not much - it was a pretty dark tunnel.”

One further result of last night’s meeting is that NCISA has a new chairman, Chris Wright, who takes over from John Tilson, who stood down from the post last week.