FOOTBALL fans have accused train bosses of pricing them out of watching Sunderland home games.
The Sunderland Supporters’ Association’s London branch, which has around 500 members, regularly used block bookings on Grand Central trains to travel to matches at the Stadium of Light.
However, the branch claims that since Grand Central was snapped up by city transport giant Arriva in 2011, its relationship with the company has changed.
Whereas before the takeover, the branch was often able to book a carriage within a week of a game, fans are now in a situation where they must book 12 weeks in advance to secure affordable tickets.
And with Premier League fixtures often switching dates at short notice due to live TV coverage, that makes it difficult for supporters to book so early.
The branch – which estimates its members once spent around £20,000 per year on the service – is now asking Grand Central for an opportunity to sit down and discuss a better way forward, having failed to come to a solution from email correspondence.
Helen Wright, chairman of SAFSA London and Southern England branch, said: “We worked really well with Grand Central and had a system which was flexible for us, but when they were bought by Arriva, it stopped overnight.
“With no prior communication, we received an email to say they wouldn’t provide us with the same service we had, and that was it.
“We have exchanged emails with them about trying to find a solution, and their suggestion was that we could use their group booking service.
“The discount on those tickets is minimal, though, and is also inflexible, as you need to book up 12 weeks in advance to get affordable tickets. We need flexibility, as fixtures can change quite quickly and easily.
We would just like to be able to sit down with them to discuss it all.Helen Wright, chairman of SAFSA London and Southern England branch
“The people in the branch love to come and see their football team, but it’s a big commitment, and the current cost of a £98 return for each match is unsustainable.
“We would just like to be able to sit down with them to discuss it all.”
A spokeswoman for Grand Central said: “Since we began operating in 2007, we have provided travel for many football fans travelling to and from matches.
“Over the past eight years, our trains have become much more popular and services are busier than ever.
“This means since the original arrangements were put in place for the Sunderland Supporters’ London branch in 2008, providing flexibility to swap the group from one train to another after the original booking has been made is very difficult.
“There is often not the space available to accommodate fans on alternative services, as those seats have already been booked by other travellers.
“While booking 12 weeks in advance is the best way to get the cheapest rates of travel, we do sympathise with fans in the situation they find themselves.
“As with many other football supporters, fixture times being chopped and changed at often short notice is very frustrating, and can make booking travel difficult.”