Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre has defended the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group ahead of a proposed ticket price protest by suggesting fans should “be careful what they wish for”.
Supporters’ groups are planning the first walk-out in Anfield’s 132-year history in the 77th minute of Saturday’s match against Sunderland after a £77 match ticket (up from £59) and a £1,000 season ticket were announced this week.
The club have argued the new structure – which includes 45 per cent of match tickets decreasing in price, 64 per cent of season tickets reduced or staying the same in cost, better availability for local fans and around 1,500 £9 tickets for category C games – offers greater accessibility and affordability.
Earlier this week fans’ group Spirit of Shankly criticised FSG, the club’s American owners, claiming they refused to respond directly to some of their concerns during the consultation period and SoS and Spion Kop 1906 are now urging supporters to leave their seats in the 77th minute to demonstrate discontent at the price hike.
“People should be careful what they wish for,” said Ayre, who spoke to try to allay the fears of fans and presented a case for greater accessibility to an increased-capacity Anfield as a £100million redevelopment of the Main Stand nears completion.
“For those of us who were around when we didn’t have these types of owners (referring to the previous dysfunctional regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett) making these type of decisions the club was in a real mess.
“We have great owners – that £100million came interest-free and they don’t take a penny out of this football club.
“People should make their own decisions but I feel absolutely we have made the right decision and have everyone’s best interests at heart.”
The protest plans are gathering momentum but it remains to be seen how many will actually take direct action on Saturday.
Ayre urged those considering walking out to go back and look at the whole ticket package the club was offering.
“I respect everyone’s right to do what they think is right but for every fan thinking about that I would say ‘Have a look at the facts’,” he added.
“You might be walking out for something you are not quite understanding.
“If people want to leave after 77 minutes that is disappointing but it shouldn’t be because they feel the prices are wrong as there is something for everyone in there.
“If someone who sits in a certain position where there is a £77 ticket next season but can’t afford it we have another option for them.
“No-one is being priced out of the stadium. There is a seat for everyone at the right price. “That is the thing to look at before you take that type of action and walk out.
“It can only be damaging to Liverpool if we have got it wrong and someone can define right and wrong in different ways.”
The complaint that fans’ groups were merely paid lip service during the consultation period and their views were not listened to was also addressed by Liverpool’s chief executive.
“I’d say that is the thing that surprised us the most,” he said. “A lot of clubs don’t engage in the dialogue we have engaged in for nine months, or have a supporters’ committee.
“We have listened, but of course we can’t give everyone everything they want.
“I have a responsibility as chief executive to run the business and we have to do the right things for our fans and the club and the mix is a really tough one to get right.
“Even with the most vociferous of our fans we have said ‘We’ll have to agree to disagree on some things’ but the core of my job is to deliver the most sustainable solution for the club on and off the pitch and I feel we are doing that.”