Stadium besieged by ticketless fans

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The Independent Online
THE SPORTS Minister, Tony Banks, called last night for a review of football ticket allocation after almost 5,000 Manchester United fans were left stranded outside the Nou Camp Stadium in Barcelona following the collapse of a British ticket agency.

Mr Banks, who was in Barcelona for the match, said he would be urgently seeking talks on his return to London to review whether ticket sales should be made solely at club or national association level.

The minister said: "It appears that something like 4,000 fans had purchased tickets and their flight through an agency have now found that the agency has gone bust ... We have got to tighten up ticket sales there is no doubt about it. Tickets should only be sold either through clubs or through the Football Association."

Despite sporadic scuffles, including an outbreak of fighting which led to the arrest of three fans in the nearby resort of Lloret de Mar, and reports of ticket touts charging extortionate prices, the atmosphere in the city prior to the game was largely good-natured.

The travelling band of United fans was believed to be the largest contingent of club fans ever to travel abroad, and they made their presence felt in the city during the build-up to the game.

Metro trains were crammed with singing supporters, and on the Ramblas, the pulsating heart of the city, they strode up and down in a purposeful, thrilling tide. Drink was consumed in copious quantities, but they did their best to charm the locals.

"Championes, Championes" they sang, their voices ricocheting deafeningly from the high handsome buildings.

"Takin' over, takin' over, takin' over Bar-ce-LON-a," roared the Stokey Reds, Stoke-on-Trent's branch of Manchester United supporters club, cans of Stella Artois firmly in hand.

"It's historic, majestic," crowed another fan , naked from the waist up but for his Mexican sombrero.

"We're the best team in Europe, and the world. All English fans should be proud of Manchester United today.

Nick Church, a building worker from Crewe, was dazzled by the spectacle of the waving banners, the throng and the crackling emotion. "I've never been abroad before," he said. "It's a beautiful day and a beautiful city. We're going for the treble, and to cap it all it's Matt Busby's birthday."

Five thousand riot police were on stand-by in case of trouble, and local police had been given the order to exercise a "strong hand" in dealing with possible violence. Police were most concerned about the 15,000 United fans and 2,000 Bayern supporters who had come to Spain without tickets. British police also feared that about 5,000 people were holding forged tickets.

"This means that at least 20,000 extra people might want to get into an already full stadium, which would worsen the security problems," said Silverio Blanco, of the riot unit, as police monitored proceedings during the run-up to the game.