When Everton travels to Emirates Stadium for the March 8th FA Cup quarter-final match with Arsenal, the club will have to make due without 3,814 supporters that would normally be in attendance.
This is because Arsenal’s Safety Advisory Group fears safety issues due to “persistent standing” and the use of smoke bombs/pyrotechnics in the upper tiers of the Emirates stadium.
Per FA Cup rules, visiting fans are typically given 15% of available seats. As the Emirates has an approximate capacity of 60,000 fans, this means 9,000 tickets should have been allocated. As a result of the Advisory Group, that number has been decreased to 5,186.
The decision has infuriated Evertonians and the club has spoke to the FA and Arsenal demanding to know why they have been denied full 15% allocation.
The outrage has now prompted Member of Parliament, Andy Burnham, to intervene in the row. Burnham has written to Greg Dyke urging the FA Chairman to “stand up for Everton” and demanding the club receive the fair number of seats in accordance with rules.
The Merseyside born Burnham, an admitted Everton fan, gave credence to the view of the Advisory Group while maintaining his belief that Arsenal is capable of managing the alleged threat.
“The views of the Ground Safety Advisory Group are important and should not be ignored, but I fail to see how a club with years of experience handling big fixtures, in a purpose built stadium, cannot devise a solution to meet the ticketing rules.”
Joining Burnham is fellow MP and die-hard Liverpool supporter, Steve Rotherham, who also sent a letter demanding evidence from the Football Association as to why it sanctioned Arsenal’s decision to reduce away supporter tickets.
“In the 21st century, with the Emirates stadium the most modern ground in the top flight having only opened in July 2006, it is somewhat perplexing that Arsenal Football Club can have such little confidence in their own stewarding structure that they feel the only course of action is to deny more than 4,000 Evertonians the chance to enjoy the FA Cup quarter final.”
The plausible explanation Arsenal is likely to put forth concerns a survey conducted in December 2013 finding that one-third of fans have been directly affected by pyrotechnics at a stadium in the past and that 86% are concerned for their safety.
The study also showed that Everton, Manchester United and Wigan Athletic are the clubs with the most incidents flares (5) in 2013-14 while Liverpool, Manchester City, Sheffield United have each had four incidents.
Such argument is weakened due to the modern nature of the Emirates stadium and the alternatives at the club’s disposal. Many believe that Arsenal’s decision actually serves as a pretext to infringe upon the support of competing Premier League clubs to gain an unfair advantage. Tottenham and Liverpool were denied the proper allocation during the third and fourth rounds of the FA Cup, while League One side Coventry City was curiously offered greater allocation.
Beyond that, the fear that Premier League fans are more likely to engage in “persistent standing” is nonsense. Are League One fans not prone to standing? Equally questionable is the concept that security at the massively conservative and overly protective Emirates stadium couldn’t control the fans. Anyone who has attended a match there knows the Yellow Jackets are as strict as they come.
If it’s deemed too dangerous for 9,000 away fans to sit together then dividing the group into two or three sections seems a plausible alternative. If seating the fans in the upper tier is a projectile threat than seating in a lower section should resolve the issue.
The alternatives are there. Whether the FA is willing to stand up in the face of Arsenal’s questionable decision making, remains to be seen.