West Ham abandon plans for 100 per cent season ticket hike for disabled fans after angry reaction from fans
- Credit: submitted
West Ham supporters unhappy at the prospect of big increases for some of their most vulnerable fans
West Ham United have been forced into a climb down over their plans to increase season ticket prices for disabled supporters by over 100 per cent after an angry reaction from fans.
Disabled supporters reacted with disbelief and anger after receiving a letter from the club just before the West Brom game which informed them that their season tickets for next season would rise to Band Four levels.
No prices were given, but a Band Four season ticket currently costs about £600 compared to the £290 that disabled fans paid for their tickets this season.
However, after an adverse reaction from supporters online to the news, the club issued a second letter signed by West Ham vice-chairman Karren Brady, which reached fans this week.
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In it, Ms Brady insisted that a new Band Five level has been created for disabled fans and that the increase next season will be no more than 50 per cent.
News of any increase for next season has not gone down well with the disabled fans though, who told the Recorder exactly what they felt about the decision.
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Nick Jones, 56, who has followed the club for 30 years, said: “It is still a huge increase. It could now cost about £440. With all the changes to benefits, I just don’t know if I’ll still be able to afford it.
“Disabled people often don’t have a choice about working. Going out is a big logistical exercise for me and the home games are a social event I can look forward to.
“Even if some other clubs charge more, why should West Ham not want to be inclusive rather than excluding disabled fans?
“I feel they are putting up the price in preparation for moving to the Olympic Stadium although they made a lot of noises about affordable family football and more seats becoming available.”
For husband and wife supporters Tony and Deborah Hoskins, it is simple, they will not be able to afford any increases.
Deborah, who is in a wheelchair after two years and six months of chemotherapy, says the club is being greedy.
“I won’t be able to go, I just can’t afford it,” she said. “I can’t work at the moment and my husband is partially sighted, so if they do that it is simple, we can’t go anymore.
“There is no way we can find that money. We have to save now for our tickets, so I think it is just being greedy.
“Why does it need to go up? They don’t think about the people it will affect. What if they were in the same situation as us? They can’t work, live on whatever they can, they wouldn’t be able to afford it either.”
Husband Bob has had a season ticket at Upton Park for 50 years, but he believes that this may be the final year he can do it.
“I don’t know what I am going to do, but it is going to make it so hard,” he said. “It is a bitter way for me to leave Upton Park. I wanted to support the new stadium, but I think that is probably me done. Whatever happens I will always support West Ham till the day I die, I really will.”
One thing that all the West Ham disabled fans we spoke to agreed about was that the staff who look after them at Upton Park and on their travels to places like Anfield, where they were on Sunday, do a fantastic job.
Deborah continued: “I am not knocking the West Ham stewards they are brilliant,” she insisted.
“They brought us here to Anfield on the coach and if they hadn’t we wouldn’t have been able to come. We couldn’t have come by train today because there is no lift at the station.
“In that way they have been brilliant, but in terms of pricing for home games, they are not thinking of their fans. I think the prices don’t need to go up at all to be honest.”
Husband Tony echoed those views: “The stewards try their best and they are brilliant, but you can only do what they have got,” he said. “I will name Julie Pidgeon (Disabled Liaison Officer), because she is brilliant for us, but with the financial side of things Julie has no real say in that and we know that.”
Another disabled fan at Anfield was Keith Stubley who was set to buy a season ticket next year, but is now in two minds about the way forward for himself.
“I think West Ham are brilliant and I would defend them to the hilt,” said Keith. “I do think the prices of the season tickets which I was intending to buy for next season are quite dear though.
“I will have to look at it because you can pay monthly now, they do it through a finance company, but it will still be expensive.
“It was one of my incentives for getting a season ticket for next season because when they do move to the Olympic Stadium, I will be high up on the list for a place there.
“I will miss the atmosphere of Upton Park, but I really think it is going to be a good move.”
It is next season that most disabled fans are worried about and for Deborah Hoskins it has left a bitter taste in her mouth.
“I don’t understand why the prices need to go up because there is nothing different happening,” she said.
“If they are saying you can have these special seats and blah, blah, blah, then maybe, but they are not giving us anything in return and it is wrong.
“But because we are so passionate about West Ham and they know we will still try and follow them, they have us over a barrel.
“If it weren’t for West Ham fans they wouldn’t have a club, but now they are taking the mickey.”
For Nick Jones, he feels that he deserves better for his loyalty to the club over the years.
“There have been so many games where seats could not be filled and where they were able to rely on my revenue,” he said. “I feel I put my bum on a seat when the club was likely to lose, so they should do the same by rewarding me a seat when they are likely to win. I also buy my cups of tea, programme and all the merchandise at games.”
It is clearly an emotive issue and a backlash that perhaps West Ham did not bargain for.
A West Ham United spokesman said: “Ticket prices for disabled fans at West Ham United have not increased for 21 years (other than inflation). Prices for the 2013/14 season are being considered and reviewed in line with FA, Premier League and Level Playing Field rules.
“Following the review, a new Band 5 category will be created for disabled fans, meaning their season tickets and matchday tickets will still be the cheapest available at the Boleyn Ground and will remain very competitive with other London Premier League clubs.
“Disabled supporters will also continue to be able to bring a carer to games for free and take advantage of many other benefits including dedicated disabled supporter evenings attended by first-team players and management.”
Disabled fan Gill Fowler emailed the club and said: “I think the revised prices are a good compromise and are still very favourable compared to other London clubs. I imagine there will be some disabled fans still not happy with the increase but I can understand the club need to bring the prices to a more realistic level.
“ To be honest we are lucky they have been so low for such a long time. I’ve always been very proud of the way West Ham look after disabled supporters and will be looking forward to renewing my season ticket for what I think is - if I have counted correctly! - my 20th year.”
Disabled fan Carol Ware proactively emailed the club and said: “Hi Julie (Pidgeon), got the letter today, no problem with that, still a really good deal.”.
It seems clear that West Ham were going to need to raise prices for disabled fans when they moved to the Olympic Stadium in 2016, but a whopping increase at that point would have received an even bigger backlash from supporters and the media.
But with all Premier League clubs receiving even more money from their latest Premier League TV deal, it would seem somewhat harsh to raise prices for some of the poorest West Ham fans, many of whom cannot work.
Tony Hoskins believes that the club have a huge opportunity to get things sorted for the disabled when they move to Stratford.
“The one thing about the Olympic Stadium is they have the chance to get it very right for disabled fans and equally they have got the chance to get it very wrong,” he said.
“They have to listen to the disabled supporters, because at the moment they are not.”
It seems that on this occasion West Ham have listened to the fans and compromised, how things go in the future remains to be seen.