Published: 18 January, 2013
by PETER GRUNER
POLICE in Islington have been accused of behaving like Arsenal’s “personal storm troopers” over the removal of a banner at the Emirates stadium protesting against the high price of match tickets.
The accusation comes from Steven Powell, policy director of the national Football Supporters Federation. An Arsenal fan who lives at the Angel, he has written to Islington’s Borough Commander complaining about the police action, which he claims was an “affront to democracy”.
The incident took place on Sunday just before kick-off at the Emirates stadium at the match between Arsenal and Manchester City.
City fans had complained at being charged £62 for away tickets for the game, with around 900 tickets returned unsold.
The supporters who did attend brought several banners protesting over the issue, including a large banner that read: “£62, where will it stop?”
Arsenal maintained that stewards intervened only because the banners obstructed views of fans at the back of the stadium. They argued that they were forced to call in the police when the protesters refused to remove the banners and there was a danger of a breach of the peace. The banners were removed and there were no arrests. City won 2-0.
But the high-priced tickets caused an enormous amount of controversy. The Arsenal Independent Supporters Association (AISA) this week called for ticket prices at all Premier League grounds to be frozen “at current levels for three years”.
“This issue has again highlighted that ticket prices at Premiership clubs have risen rapidly, and any further increases will result in core fans being priced -out of live football,” a spokesman said. “AISA believes that a cap should be applied to ticket prices at every Premier League club.”
Mr Powell, 56, who lives in Arundel Square, said he was appalled that the police got involved in the first place.
“I’m not anti-police and I know they do a difficult job,” he said. “But they should not be acting as a private army for a football club. The protesters were making a very valid point. It’s their democratic right to do so. The fact is that the majority of Premiership fans these days can’t afford the price of a ticket to a big game.”
Mr Powell has also written to Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and London Assembly member Jennette Arnold to complain about the “heavy-handed” response by stewards and police.
“I’ve been a fan since 1968 when I was 11 and you could get in to see a match for 20p. But at more than £1,000 I can’t afford a season ticket these days.”
Mr Powell, who gave evidence at a government inquiry into British match prices, believes that big teams like Arsenal are using their monopoly to “exploit” the fans. “When they put the ticket prices up you can’t go to another team. It’s not like moving from Sainsbury’s to Tesco. You either have to find the money somehow or not go.”
Arsenal maintained that they are making great strides to reduce the prices of tickets. A spokesman said: “Last year we provided 90,000 cheaper tickets. League matches today range from £5 for children to £10 or £20 for adults.”
In a statement on the banner incident the Metropolitan Police said: “The monitoring of banners inside football stadiums is a matter for club security. However, officers may assist security, for instance, where there are fears of a potential breach of the peace.”