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To Refund Or Not Refund? - That Is The Question

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After Reading's 7-1 defeat at Norwich, two TTE writers look at the arguments for and against a refund for the travelling fans.

Reading v Bradford City - FA Cup Quarter Final Replay Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

Should watching a 7-1 mauling after travelling over 150 miles entitle you to a refund? Some Reading supporters have suggested the players should reimburse them after having to sit through such a horror show, but do the player need to make a gesture like that after a heavy defeat?

Here, we get both sides of the debate from two TTE writers.

No refunds needed

urzz1871

When you buy a ticket for a football match, that’s all you’re buying – a ticket to watch two teams kick a ball around for 90 minutes or so. There are no guarantees what the match will be like. It could be a drab nil-nil draw with zero shots on goal played in gale force winds and driving drizzle, or it could be a pulsating nine-goal thriller played in glorious shirt-sleeve sunshine. That’s the way life works – you pays your money and you takes your chances.

So suggesting refunds of ticket money or travel costs to supporters after a bad performance makes no sense whatsoever – are supporters really so spoilt that they feel a sense of entitlement to compensation when things don’t go the way they wanted in a game? Even if the idea didn’t drive a coach and horses through the principle of caveat emptor – buyer beware – then how would you decide which games are worthy of refunds? If a 7-1 defeat is compensation-worthy, how about a 6-1 defeat, or maybe a 7-2 defeat – exactly just where do you draw the line?

Or do you somehow judge it on team performance or some measure of effort, rather than the actual scoreline? Quite apart from the fact that it’s insulting and unrealistic to imply that professional players didn’t try hard enough – that’s the one thing they can’t be accused of – who objectively decides where the threshold of deserving/not deserving refunds applies? And do they somehow assign levels of blame to individual players – did some play well and others not? What if a key player was injured, or an opposition player had the game of their life? Trying to decide what should or should trigger a refund is clearly the stuff of madness.

I’m sure that any argument in favour of refunds will cite the time and money spent on away travel. Perhaps, but surely they’re a crucial part of the away match experience, and as such worthwhile on their own? I can think of countless away matches where the journey, the time spent with mates, the pre-match craic in a different town, and the whole shared experience of a day dedicated to an away match are the highlights of the day, and worth something on their own.

We've seen this before

In fact, as a long-time Reading fan, I can think of countless days away when the only unpleasant parts of the day were the 90 minutes in the middle of it. Once that particularly springs to mind is Bournemouth away in April 2014 – a lovely afternoon by the seaside, interrupted only by having to trek to Dean Court to watch Reading get totally outplayed and well-beaten. The score might have been 3-1 but that flattered the Royals as the manner of the defeat was pretty woeful. But let’s say it had been even worse and had ended up 7-1 – would a refund be appropriate when I’d had a lovely day out and only 90 minutes of woe in the day?

Even if refunds were appropriate, I can’t see how it’s possible this work in practice, especially as one of the main arguments in favour of refunds seems to be distance travelled to the match – something which effectively says that it’s somehow worse and more painful to lose heavily away to Norwich than it would be to lose by the same margin at QPR or Fulham. But if you want travel refunded, how can you do that? Ask for receipts - with all the time, hassle and paperwork it takes to administer and validate these? And does someone who made a weekend of it get their hotel bill paid?

Even if you take a more pragmatic approach and refund everyone the same flat rate based on the distance to Reading that’s unfair too. Everyone’s travel costs will be different (advance train fares, standard train fares, two people in a car sharing petrol, four people in a car sharing petrol, fifteen people in a minibus sharing hire costs and petrol, STAR coaches, etc,) so how does a flat rate fairly reimburse everyone? And even if you do decide on one, this assumes everyone travels from Reading. But a Reading supporter might well have travelled down from Scotland, or up from Devon– or might even live on the outskirts of Norwich and had only a brisk stroll to Carrow Road. How fair can any single rate refund be?

The club's coffers can suffer

There are other flies in the ointment if you just decide to refund ticket costs. For starters, ticket revenue belongs to the home team, and of course there’s no reason or incentive for Norwich to refund Reading supporters. Any refund would need to come from Reading, which many would say is fair enough, especially if it came from the players themselves. I’m aware there are plenty of precedents where players have reimbursed supporters after bad performances, but the crucial point – one missed by those demanding refunds – is that such refunds have been voluntary ones. If players want to dip into their own pockets and make a financial gesture to supporters then that’s fine, of course, and something that would have real meaning. But a voluntary gesture is very different from something expected or demanded, and any refund that is forced or unwilling would completely invalidate its whole point and meaning.

So I’m afraid that I think anyone demanding any kind of refund can go whistle for it- there have always been the occasional abject performances, just like there have always been the occasional superb performances, and even if Reading fans didn’t get the result or performance they wanted, they got the whole experience, as well as the kudos of having been there to witness and talk about such a poor performance.

Finally, and to prove conclusively just how ridiculous the idea of refunds is, let’s take the argument to its logical conclusion. If an abject performance is worth a refund, is a superb one worth paying extra for? That would only be fair, so if this result is one where Reading should refund their supporters, why shouldn’t Norwich be sending their supporters invoices for a little extra to cover the excellence of their team’s performance? Sheer madness, I tell, you – sheer, sheer, madness!

Yes, make a gesture

number_13

There will be men, women and children all having returned to Berkshire on Saturday night less-than-positive mood, and their frustration will not strictly be limited to the football, but rather all the factors surrounding it. With the Easter school holidays in full swing, there is enough pressure on families to be able to provide for their children while they are off school. Not a penny can be wasted, and there will certainly be questions asked about whether Norwich City vs Reading was worth the cost.

The price of being a football fan has been a contentious issue for many years. It hasn’t helped matters that, with the new television deal for Premier League football teams this year, most clubs could let their fans in for free and still make a profit each year. And, while those in the second tier of English football may find it harder to make ends meet, parachute payments for those who have recent history in the top tier ensure that they don’t need to worry too much for four years at least.

But it’s not just ticket prices. Football clubs are businesses and, rightly so, wish to extract as much money as possible on the ninety-minute window-a-week that they can. There’s a programme on your way in, a club shop where a replica shirt will set you back £40 or £50. A cup of tea or coffee pre-match. A pie or hotdog at half time. And then there’s travel. Unless you live within walking distance of the stadium, there’s the cost of driving to and from your house and also how much you will be charged to park for an hour and a half (with regard to ‘driving’, I am ignoring everything other than fuel. Road tax and insurance is there regardless).

So let’s take a look at the 7-1 mauling at the weekend. What I’d like to begin with is that I am not calling for a refund of the match-day tickets. Supporting a football club is almost identical to being in a loving marriage; you don’t just get to ask for your money back when times get tough. Through thick and thin, good and bad, you stick by them no matter what. When the final whistle blows and the players have to accept defeat, you let them know your support has been and will always be there.

But love doesn’t conquer all, no matter what they say. While supporting your team is one thing, the price of attending regular football matches (particularly away days) can force some people to become pessimistic when they see people earning ten times as much as them performing well below the expected standard.

Other teams have done it, why not Reading?

There is precedent for refunds. In November 2009, Wigan Athletic were thrashed 9-1 by Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and, afterward, the Wigan players pledged their wages to refund the fans who had made the trip to London. While they refunded the whole ticket price, what is perhaps striking about this is the geography of the matter. It is a 450-mile round trip between Wigan and White Hart Lane, which would have been covered by club-backed travel as well as personal transport. While the players were covering the refund of tickets (costing them around £8,000 in total) there was no recompensing the travel costs.

Reading to Norwich is a 273-mile round-trip, so approximately half the trip Wigan made that fateful November day. Today’s fuel prices mark that at just under £50 worth of unleaded fuel, and that is before you factor in the costs of programmes and food and drink. And it’s not a particularly fun journey. Having made the slightly shorter trip from Cambridge to Reading regularly, the combination of A1 (M), M25 and M4 do not provide the fun and adventure their names suggest.

Travel refunds could be a solution

While calculating everyone’s individual travel could be tricky (right now there is probably an accountant in Reading pouring over miles-per-gallon figures and regional petrol prices), most will have travelled with official transport, some of which is organised by the supporters trust, which makes the question of a travel refund a lot easier. Of course, if one fan is refunded for travel everyone must, but it is not impossible to achieve by any means.

So, to summarise, there is certainly a case to be made about what the club should do following this result. Jaap Stam’s cautiousness before the game doesn’t count as forewarning for such a score-line, and it was completely out of character for a team on a three-game winning streak. While the players are almost certainly disappointed in the way they performed across the entire match, spare a thought for the fans. Those on less money than you, with more bills and less disposable income. But they still travelled all the way to Norwich. They had to travel all the way home. And they will be there at your next away game, and every one beyond. 7-1 doesn’t kill the love. But it does test it.

So where do you stand on the debate? Let us know in the comments below or vote in our poll.

Poll

Should Reading offer refunds to fans who went to Norwich?

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    Yes! It was 6-1 at half-time ffs
    (30 votes)
  • 13%
    Maybe offer a gesture of a partial refund, or free travel but not your full cash back
    (18 votes)
  • 64%
    No, you buy your ticket and take your chances.
    (88 votes)
136 votes total Vote Now