England fans pay pounds 500 for a ticket

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND FANS in France were last night involved in a desperate struggle to find tickets for tonight's crucial World Cup match against Argentina.

As the England team prepared to bury the demons of the notorious "Hand of God" incident, which saw the 1986 World Cup team knocked-out in Mexico, the majority of fans were stuck trying to get their own hands on a piece of embossed coloured paper which will get them into the ground.

The sweltering squares in the centre of St Etienne were yesterday full of England supporters with hand-written placards in French, requesting tickets.

Cashing in on the shortage were teams of touts from England who have travelled to France to buy tickets and sell them on at profit.

Last night the asking price for tickets with a face value of between pounds 14-pounds 35 was pounds 500. The estimated value of the black market in tickets for England matches so far this World Cup is more than pounds 8m.

"You have to have a lot of money if you want to see the match," said Peter Lucas, of the Football Supporters Association. "We have heard there are teams of touts armed with mobile phones and pre-printed flyers asking for tickets. There is nothing we can do, but it has to be a lesson that is learned for future World Cups."

The official allocation for England fans is only 2,049 tickets for a stadium which holds 36,000.

But fans who cannot get in will have one consolation - they will at least be able to watch the match with a beer in bars and restaurants, after local authorities ruled that there should be no alcohol ban.

Football Task Force chairman David Mellor criticised the allocation, saying a "very dangerous situation" had emerged.

The mood in St Etienne was good-natured but genuine fans were clearly angry about the continuing ticket crisis which will leave around two-thirds of England's 20,000 fans at the mercy of the touts.