FA fails to win extra World Cup tickets

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WORLD CUP ticket misery continued for England fans yesterday as it was revealed that just 30 extra seats had been allocated for tomorrow night's crucial match against Argentina.

Tony Banks, the sports minister, last night joined the Football Association in condemning the allocation and demanded a thorough review of ticketing arrangements for future World Cups.

Despite appeals for more tickets by the FA, the official allocation for England supporters - the smallest of the tournament for England games so far - stood at just 2,079. Alarmingly, 20,000 England fans are expected to arrive in St Etienne today in the hope of purchasing tickets.

Mr Banks said: "It is very disappointing indeed. It is crucial that at the end of this World Cup, the governments of different countries sit down with FIFA and ensure that this sort of arrangement does not happen again.

"The reason it's so important is that this has security implications. There may have been moves to have segregation within the stadia, but with so many tickets on the black market that segregation falls apart."

The FA's spokesman in France said last night: "We feared it would be as tight as this. Had we been playing Croatia, we might have had more tickets, but Argentina have taken up their full allocation."

Though more than 30,000 tickets at the 36,000-capacity Stade Geoffroy- Guichard have been sold to French fans, a large proportion are expected to find their way into the hands of English supporters via the black market.

In spite of small ticket allocations, venues for England's first round games were packed with English supporters.

Reports from St Etienne last night said touts were charging up to pounds 750 for a ticket for the game. Prices, and demand for tickets, are likely to rise should England progress further in the tournament. Parked cars and lampposts were covered with fliers advertisements FIFA yesterday defended ticket arrangements for the game.

Keith Cooper, FIFA's communications director, insisted the policy had been made public as long ago as 1995, and that exceptions could not be made for individual teams. He said: "The system of ticket distribution is laid down in the regulations, there for everybody to read since February 1995, in co-operation with the European Union.

"In this particular case, and at any of the other games, how are you possibly going to distribute a large number of tickets within 24 hours? You do know the pairings of the first round matches but you don't know the pairings of the second round matches.

"While there may be a huge demand from England, had it been Romania playing there would not have been a huge demand. If you set aside 20,000 tickets for English fans you would also have had to set aside 20,000 tickets for Romanian fans - and then you would have been sitting on 19,000 unwanted tickets ... The only way to do this is the way it has been done."

The Football Supporters' Association criticised the FA for not questioning the ticketing system when it was revealed three years ago.

Steve Powell, the FSA's spokesman Steve Powell said: "They did nothing when FIFA first announced the system of allocating tickets.

"Were they paying attention? I don't think so. Did they care? I don't think so. The interests of the fans, who are fundamental to the World Cup, are being forgotten. They seem to be more concerned in the corporate fat-cats than the fans."

World Cup, Sport, pages 28-32