In my role as a board member for the Newcastle United Supporters Trust I set up a poll to gauge the opinion of members and non-members ahead of the clubs planned consultation with fans groups about the loyalty point system which grants fans access to tickets for away fixtures (and presumably cup finals – don’t laugh).  The loyalty point question is an emotive one for fans and within minutes of posting the poll on social media there were numerous comments belittling the idea and some angry, strange people getting a bit upset.  Social media in 2017.

I think the club are to be applauded for seeking dialogue on important fan issues. So fair play to them.  Quite a few people seem to believe that as they’re seeing fan consultation then a change must be in the pipeline.  I doubt that’s the case.  I know as much as you do at the moment but having worked with the club on the implementation of the new singing section and Gallowgate Flags, I’ve every faith in them to make the right decision.

Before going into detail about the results and adding some comment I’ll come clean on where I stand.  I’ve over 100 points and I’m in my late twenties.  If I had a vote on whether to keep the current system the same or change it – i’d keep it the same.  The idea of the system is fair.  If you’ve been and supported the team a lot – you deserve priority.  If you’re a season ticket holder you’re rightly more important to the club and get priority.  I don’t think people who aren’t season ticket holders or live away from the city are ‘less of a fan’ or care less etc, but the club has a duty to it’s paying customers.  The system, as a basic idea, is fair.

I also have to confess to not having much time for much of the comments from those who dislike the system.  Much of the information or arguments presented by a lot of these people is, well, factually wrong.  There seems to be a slight age divide in opinion about the current system.  There were plenty of comments that it is too difficult for younger fans to access away tickets.  Besides the point which i’ll address later that the majority of games don’t actually require any loyalty points for tickets, I remember being on a school trip to Greece aged 17 in 2006 and desperate for an away ticket for when i got back.  I started going away from home at 15 and under Robson, Souness and Roeder combined  i’d done something like 23 away games.  There was no online ticket process then (which seems mental looking back) and each season ticket holder got a small pink book that looked like a book of raffle tickets and each page had to be filled in and sent off for an away ticket.  You then waited to hear back from the club. As I was abroad, I was reliant on a parent calling me if/when tickets arrived.  The club always got back to you, even with a letter telling you that you’d been unsuccessful.  The game I was waiting on was Sunderland away.  We were resurgent under Roeder and they were on the way to breaking their own record low points total.  I wanted more than anything in the world to go.

I didn’t get a ticket (quite rightly looking back – I had no concept of points etc and they weren’t made public – so you had no idea what was required for a game).   As i’d been doing so many games recently I thought I was in with a shout.  Wrong.  Gutted. Even listening to the radio that day (the local pubs and clubs were banned  from showing it on the foreign tv by police order) I was still gutted though the hammering we dished out by the end cheered me up.

I’m delving into a bit of my own personal supporter history here as at no point did I begrudge anyone else going to that fixture or think ‘the system is broken’ or ‘unfair’.  There was no real social media then (i didn’t fancy MySpace or bebo) so no place to get all upset and say that the system was unfair.  If you’re a younger fan now, you’ll need to do the time.  Watching NUFC away from home is normally rubbish anyway.  Before last season we won something like 5 away games in 50 games.  There was never this rush for tickets.

Even now, in these heady days of Rafa and his away day mags loads of games go to zero points.  Last season off the top of my head the following games went to zero points (I may be wrong a bout a couple, but the overall point stands)

Fulham

Bristol

Derby County

QPR

Aston Villa

Barsnley

Preston NE

Wigan

Blackburn

Wolves

Brighton

Reading

Birmingham

Birmingham (cup)

Cardiff

Ipswich required 5 Loyalty Points by the end of the season.  Even if you’d started with 0 at the start of the season then you’d be in with a good shout surely of making it and want to watch NUFC away from home regularly.  The season before 0 points were

Swansea

Man Utd

West Ham

Man City

Crystal Palace

Tottenham Hotspur

Arsenal

Watford

Chelsea

Stoke

Everton

Leicester

Norwich

Southampton

I’ll not go on but I could.  It’s a fact that if you’ve a passion for watching Newcastle United away from home, there are ample opportunities.  It will be the same this season.  Whenever you see a fan claiming that ‘you need 25 points to go to any away game’ or ‘it’s impossible for any fan to build enough points’ – please point them in the direction of this article.  Everyone wants to do Leeds away.  Why shouldn’t it be the same people who do Norwich and Southampton?  Or Brighton on a Tuesday night.  I know not everyone can go for a variety of reasons but that doesn’t mean that the fans that do, should be punished as others can’t (in most cases don’t want to).

The Survey we ran brought about the predicted result.  450 people were good enough to fill the survey in.  80% of those who filled responded were season ticket holders.  A landslide of 70% respondents believed the current Loyalty Point system to be fair.

53% of respondents had more than 30 loyalty points. 54% of respondents attend more than 5 away games per season.  This gives the survey a level of balance as from this information half of the people completing  the survey would be ‘regular’ attendees at away games and the other half less so, or don’t currently attend.  On a basic level you could expect those that go to away games regularly to like the system and those that don’t to be against it.  That 70% are in favour of the system is a good barometer that it should stay in place.

There were however some excellent ideas by those in favour of the loyalty point system to improve it:

  • A ten year expiry for points
  • A ticket collection scheme at away games so only actual season ticket holders and points holders were at games (more on this later)
  • More points for more arduous journeys (eg Norwich/Brighton mid-week)
  • Each ST renewal being worth a point
  •  Remove the admin fee per away ticket
  • Scrap the ability for people to be able to buy numerous tickets on the friends and family system
  • Points reductions should occur more quickly – why let it take a week to go from 100 points to 30 points as one day should be enough and transport is therefore more expensive for people with less points

Those unhappy with the current system suggested the following improvements:

  • Scrap the points system – first come first serve
  • Points for home cup games and away friendlies
  • Points for members
  • Three year rolling points schemes
  • A small number of tickets each game for fans who prove they live local to the away ground for general sale
  • A cap on points for games – eg 30 points being the max and then it allows more people the chance to buy tickets
  • Points band – e.g 45-60.  Infuriating if you’ve 59 points and a game sells out at 60
  • Option for non-ST exiles to collect points without being a member
  • Put all fans back to 0 points after this season as so many points have been gained improperly by selling tickets on
  • Collection only for tickets – how can you have supporters buses selling tickets with bus seats?

 

I don’t agree with any of the above particularly but a few of the points a certainly worth considering.  A vast number of comments from people who were fans and non-fans of the current system were based around abuse of the system.  I’m inclined to agree with a lot of the comments but it’s hard to be too critical without being hypocritical.  I understand why any fan would take a ticket off a friend not going but who has the points, take the ticket off someone selling on social media – do anything they can to get to a game. I also understand fans who want to help out mates.  I’m firmly against buying tickets to ‘build points’ and selling to people you don’t know.  It is a reason many fans feel like the system is broken when in fact the system works fine – it’s those abusing it that make it seem broken.  Away coaches selling tickets with seats is probably not that common (or I haven’t seen much evidence of it) but the idea is repugnant and these people are little worse than touts and many cited it as a problem.

The rules are clear with away tickets – only the season ticket holder may buy a ticket for an away fixture and only that season ticket holder can attend.  Have they ever been enforced and if not, is it any wonder that abuse of the system happens?

Recently other clubs have had to clamp down on the problems I’ve alluded to.  Manchester United and Liverpool have made fans collect tickets on match day with identification. It obviously caused uproar – but from who?  I spoke to Man Utd fans who go away and they think it’s a great idea. Why wouldn’t they as they bought tickets for themselves and it stopped the sale of tickets to football tourists or lads intent on causing trouble etc?  One issue was it stopped groups going who’d gone for years, probably doing hundreds of games as they’d always used someone elses ticket.  I doubt NUFC have the desire or the resources to go down a similar route.  It would be fair though, wouldn’t it?

The loyalty point system is designed to reward loyalty.  I’m in favour of keeping it the same and despite some minor tweaks and tightening up on the point collectors – I hope it stays the same for the rest of my match going life.

If you’ve any thoughts we’d love to hear them in the comments box below.

Alex Hurst

true faith editor

@tfalex1892