Thursday 23rd March, 2017, 7am – St Andrews, Small Heath.
A thick blanket of cloud enveloped the tired car park of the St Andrews football stadium, the home of Birmingham City football club.
The sky above the post-industrial suburb of Small Heath in the nation’s second city took on a dull grey hue.
It began to rain.
Fifty hardy souls, standing in a queue, shivered in the damp and cold March air. They’re here to try their luck and attempt to purchase a ticket to watch Birmingham City take on their arch rivals Aston Villa at Villa Park next month in the big derby game.
Reg, a humble worker at the near-by Land Rover assembly plant joins the queue. He’s number fifty one.
We approach Reg.
As we draw nearer, we ask him why he’s come here today, at 7am, in the rain, to stand in the cold.
He carefully reaches into his pocket and opens his hand to show a collection of rusty coins and a frayed photograph of what appears to be a soldier from WW2.
‘Me dad took me to my first ever Blues game when I were a nipper in 1954‘ reminisces old Reg.
‘And i’ve followed ’em ever since, through the bad times, and the badder’. Reg lets out a smile of nostalgia.
‘I’ve come to get me and me grandson a ticket for the derby game. So I can take him down, just like me when I was his age.’
We wish him good luck and let him re-join the queue.
Two hours pass. The rain intensifies and the now sixty Blues fans huddle together for warmth, like a bunch of penguins you might see braving the elements on Planet Earth. The ticket office opens for business.
Initially, the people at the front of the queue step away from the kiosks smiling and clasping their tickets, it appears their withstanding of the elements has seen them win the day, and they’ll be attending the derby game next month.
It’s now 9:15am, fifteen minutes in and unexpectedly, at a sudden, and seemingly prematurely, the plump lady behind the glass in the ticket office stretches towards the window and swiftly slaps a ‘Sold Out’ sign up.
2000 tickets, sold out after 15 minutes?
Something didn’t feel right.
We approach Reg, who was at the front at the time.
‘Did you get tickets?’ we enquire, more hopefully than anything else.
‘No….no…not today‘ Reg replies with tears in his eyes.
‘They, they told me that all the normal tickets were sold out in ten minutes, but that if I wanted to go I had to pay £169 for a ‘special’ ticket that got me a breakfast. But I can’t afford £340 for me and the grandson, I can’t afford it. What could I do?’
Reg wiped his eyes and carefully placed the photo of his dad back into his pocket.
‘I’ve got to get back to work’, Reg shook our hands and walked out of the car park, never looking back and disappeared back into the grey drizzle of Small Heath.
More and more Blues fans were walking by with expressions of sadness and disappointment, some even looked angry.
It quickly transpired that a great many had missed out, and a large number of tickets had been taken out of the ‘normal’ allocation and had been turned into ‘corporate £169’ packages.
The blinds flickered in the central heated VIP boxes above, you could hear laughing.
My phone bleeped. I got a tweet. It was from a guy who has traveled every inch following the Blues, home and away for decades – he’d missed out on the Villa game too.
It was becoming clearer that a great number of tickets had been taken away from ordinary Blues fans and turned into ‘corporates’.
After sacking Rowett, shutting off communications and leaving everybody at the club wondering why, now we were further abused by the turning of derby-day tickets to corporate packages.
The corporate packages were quickly snapped up. Panos had done well for his paymasters, tickets once £30 were now sold at five times the value.
Here a Crystal Palace fan and a returning Blues fan after a 6 year absence brag about bagging one of these packages:
I slammed my laptop shut in anger.
I couldn’t help but think of Reg, with tears in his eyes, clasping the photo of his father and walking back to work drenched from the Small Heath rain.
‘Bastards‘ – I let out a swearword in anger and frustration.
Some other Blues fans took to Twitter to register complaint, but only a tiny minority, for it seemed the machinations of Panos and friends had worked and their plan had gone ahead without much notice.
At the time of writing, one of the ‘corporates’ had published an article branding dissenting Blues fans ‘keyboard warriors’, and demanded that everybody backed the current set-up without question and fixed the ‘fragmented relations’.
Well, perhaps when the ordinary people at this football club, we the fans, are treated with a modicum of respect and dignity, only then, real fixes can come about.