Almanack: Touts out in a flash

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The Independent Online
MUCH wailing and gnashing of teeth among the nation's football ticket touts - or ticket brokers, as they sometimes prefer to be known. For on Monday an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill arrived in the House of Lords aimed at eliminating football touting in all its forms.

If the bill becomes law, it will become an offence 'for any unauthorised person to sell, expose for sale or offer for sale a ticket for a designated football match in any public place . . . or in the course of a trade or business in any other place'. An offence, what's more, with a maximum punishment of a pounds 5,000 fine or six months in prison.

Initial proposals for the new Criminal Justice Bill had been to forbid dealing in tickets on match days. But Peter Mawdsley, the Liverpool trading standards chief whose officers have been at the forefront of the battle against touts, wrote to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, pointing out the inadequacies of the legislation and pressing for an amendment to include all touting.

The Merseyside officials were particularly concerned - for some reason - with offences committed with Cup final tickets. They claim this new hard line will help halt a racket worth pounds 350,000 a year in Wembley mark-ups. 'Soon the touts will be operating outside the law and players and officials who pass tickets to touts will also be guilty of a criminal offence,' a triumphant Mawdsley said.

Almanack lost no time in contacting the Flashman dynasty, for many years market leaders in this area. Stan, once known as the 'King of the Touts', has been keeping a lower profile recently. But his son Mark is scathing of the Home Office's proposals.

'The only way they're going to be able to arrest anyone,' Flashman Junior contended, 'is if they're outside the ground. They cannot do anything if it's done by phone, or anything like that.' But surely the point of extending the legislation is precisely to include such deals? 'If you went to a match with two tickets, and your friend couldn't go, and you sold that ticket to someone - say it's worth pounds 19, and you sell it for pounds 25 - are they going to say that they're going to arrest you, and give you a fine, or imprisonment for selling that seat?' Well, yes, they are. 'I mean I cannot understand,' Mark continued, 'what they're doing with it, to be truthful.'

What 'they' are trying to do is put Mark and his ilk out of business. In a country that secretly adores the spiv - think of dear old Arthur Daley - that may not be a universally popular move. But few sports fans would mourn them.

Mark Flashman seems reasonably confident of survival. His transparent concern for the ordinary man in the street selling on an extra ticket soon passed when he was quizzed about the new law's effect on established unorthodox ticket merchants like himself. 'Well, if you're doing it from an office,' he disarmingly admitted, 'they've got to find you first, haven't they?'

(Photograph omitted)