When I flew back from Wellington on Monday – having seen Sydney FC claim a sorely-needed three points in Frank Farina’s first game in the plastic Bunnings seat – I expected the back pages to be pumping up the tyres of this Saturday’s Sydney Derby/El Plástico/Harbour City Hoedown.


Instead, the big roundball story of the day was the visit of Manchester United next July, a huge coup for the code in Australia and a considerable notch on the belt of incoming FFA CEO David Gallop. I was a little bit peeved that it takes a club of their magnitude to command the attention of Eurosnobs down under, but the benefits are obvious: dragging 80,000 through the Homebush gates only two weeks after the British Lions fly home from their 2013 tour, and barely three days after the Origin decider at the Olympic Stadium, will steal valuable headlines away from the dominant winter codes.

It was a shame that a ticketing controversy took some shine off the announcement. The complaint was that 40,000 tickets were sold to the FFA ‘Football Family’ on Tuesday, and then the 15,000 tickets available to the general public were snapped up in two minutes yesterday morning, while Ticketek’s computer fizzled under the strain of the demand. The remaining tickets 28,000 or so seats will be divvied up between the 10,000-ish ANZ Stadium members, corporate boxes, travel packages and a portion to be released to the rank-and-file in April.

Where was the so-called bungle? The reporting implied that only 15,000 tickets in the gargantuan arena were made available to Pete from Parramatta or Bob from Bankstown. Well, that’s not really true – the Football Family is hardly an exclusive club. Here’s the application form – it’s free, and all you need to do is lob in an email address and a couple of personal details. That entitled you to 10 tickets in the Tuesday pre-sale window.

I can understand people’s disappointment, but if missing out on tickets truly ruined your “year” or your “son’s dreams”, if it was really that important, why didn’t you have the nous, awareness and savvy to spend 30 seconds generating your Football Family pre-sale code. As some have facetiously suggested on Ticketek’s facebook page, ticketless United ‘fans’ ought to come along to the Sydney Derby this weekend, or sample a national team fixture. Ironically, if they had ever been to a Socceroos game before, they would have probably signed up to the Football Family and benefited from the 24-hour head start.

I don’t want to get into the habit of defending Ticketek, who were worthy recipients of Choice magazine’s not-so-coveted Shonky Award this year. Their website is cumbersome (if you search ‘Sydney FC’, the first result is Wanderers, for example) and often struggles under the weight of big events (back in the days when the Roosters actually played finals, Monday mornings with members’ pre-sale codes were rarely a smooth process). Most frustrating is the processing fees that they tack on to the ticket price – ezyTicket and mobile tickets cost the same as box office collection or posted tickets, $5.10, despite the fact that the former category is purely electronic, therefore incurring negligible cost for Ticketek, compared to the more labour-intensive means of processing. What’s more, that is a flat fee – you could buy one ezyTicket and pay $5.10, or 10 tickets in the mail and pay $5.10. Ticketek ought to encourage cheaper methods of digital tickets, rather than lumping consumers with extravagant handling fees.

Incidentally, it would be nice if the newspapers could divert some of their Manchester United newsprint towards El Plástico. The closest the major papers come to an analysis of the match is this exegesis on how Alessandro Del Piero *gasp* calls the game ‘soccer’ rather than ‘football’, a debate that seems to attract more attention in this country than any serious tactical analysis.

Maybe it’s Sydney FC’s form. Maybe the gloss has worn off Wanderers’ entry into the competition. Maybe – with a Ponting-less Test match commencing in Hobart tomorrow, and an ostensibly popular Big Bash League warming up – cricket is the order of the day. But the lead-up to the Derby has been somewhat muted and I suspect that will be reflected in the crowd on Saturday – the mysterious PAX number hovers around 16,000, which points towards a crowd of around 30,000 when Sydney’s season-ticket holders and a good walk-up crowd in nice weather is taken into account.

Decent numbers, but in 2012-13 – the summer of the marquee recruit, when the A-League was due to announce itself on the Australian landscape – the First City Derby ought to be pushing a sell out.