Ashes tickets change hands for £1,000 despite MCC crackdown on touts

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The Independent Online

But the heavy-set men in Burberry shirts and baseball caps outside the Lord's ground yesterday will not be welcome in the Long Room.

The cricketing authorities have mounted an unprecedented crackdown on ticket touts, as England meet Australia in the most keenly anticipated match of the season.

A fighting fund of more than £100,000 has been spent to buy back spare tickets and keep them from the backstreet hustlers, whom many blame for pricing ordinary spectators out of leading sports venues.

The crusade even has the support of ministers, who are promising to make touting illegal for the 2012 London Olympics.

Yet an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has found touts making bigger profits than ever from ordinary cricket fans, selling £50 tickets for as much as £1,000 in the shadow of the famous Grace Gates last week, a mark-up of 1,900 per cent.

The IoS has already revealed how major sports and arts venues, including the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley, are demanding a legal ban on touting because of an enormous rise in unauthorised ticket sales, in part fuelled by the internet auction website eBay.

Yet touting remains completely legal, apart from in the instance of high-profile football matches - and the Lord's touts operated with total impunity.

At Lord's last week, the IoS had no trouble in finding a buyer for our (fictional) spare ticket. One bald man, with a boxer's nose and heavy jowled face, ushers us round the corner of a side street when we tell him we are interested in selling. He offers £80, then £140. Counting it off his wad of £20 notes - about £2,000 worth - he says: "That'll leave £10 for me. £140 in cash, in your hand, now."

Declining the offer, we leave but are followed down the road. "Here, talk to the gaffer," says the first tout. His companion is dressed in shorts, T-shirt and trainers, and is charming. "I'll give you £250," he says. We say no, but it does little good. He's back after us down the road. "£300," he says.

It is a cut-throat business, and when the gangs spot the IoS photographer, they surround him, threatening violence. "It's not what we'll do to you," he is told. "It's what our mates will do to you."

On Wednesday night, the MCC released around 150 of the 600 tickets they had bought back on eBay. According to one fan outside the ground, a number of Australian backpackers queued up overnight and, at 2am, saw off a van of touts who turned up and tried to push their way to the front en masse.

The touts work in large groups, with a clear hierarchy. The youngest is tasked with scurrying between different bosses positioned on street corners with mobile phones.

A second group, mainly in their 20s, hunt for people with spare tickets. When they find someone, they ring one of the ring-leaders - proper East End hardmen in their 40s and 50s. Within moments they are on the scene, negotiating a deal.

Inquiries further down Wellington Road, towards the cricket ground's turnstiles, reveal that tickets are resold for between £500 and £1,000.

Colin Gibson, the England and Wales Cricket Board's director of communications, said that the Government needed to change the law to ban the touts. Under legislation currently being considered by the House of Commons, touting will be illegal at the 2012 London Olympics, but the new law will not cover any other sporting event.

"It is a strange anomaly. It will be illegal to tout tickets for the archery at Lord's during the Olympics, but not for the cricket," Mr Gibson said.

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