Football: Anger at 'crazy' ticket allocation

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The Independent Online
AFTER the roar of Lens, the silence in St Etienne may be just as deafening, with a mere 2,049 tickets allocated to England fans for Tuesday's second-round meeting with Argentina.

Yesterday the Football Supporters' Association was voicing its indignation with Fifa, football's world governing body, over the division of seating that will leave thousands of followers of the three lions locked out of the 36,000-capacity Stade Geoffroy Guichard.

The supporters' ire was also directed squarely at the Football Association for agreeing to the ticketing arrangements. The FSA's vice-chairman, Sheila Spiers, conceded there was little that could be done to gain more tickets at this late stage.

"There is nothing we can do about it," Spiers said. "But you must remember also that although the Football Association are saying now that we've got to do this for the fans and we've got to do that for the fans, they did agree to the arrangements in the first place three years ago.

"Fifa have themselves benefited enormously. [The former president] Joao Havelange, when he was supporting [his successor] Sepp Blatter, said: 'I have left Fifa in a very, very strong financial position and Sepp Blatter will continue it.'

"It is awful for the fans out there. I feel so sorry for them because they're going to pay the earth for tickets. The lowest quoted price for tickets on Thursday for [Friday] night's game that our team out there got was pounds 175."

Spiers added: "This is a crazy allocation. It is the same kind of allocation as they were given for the first rounds originally."

Then the FA managed to increase England's allocation and the association's Pat Smith admits she will have to return to the negotiating table again to raise the quota, which is even smaller than it was for England's group games against Tunisia in Marseilles, Romania in Toulouse and Colombia in Lens, when England were cheered on by a large and vocal support.

"We have been negotiating to try to get more and are continuing to do so," Smith said. "We are asking if there are any tickets for St Etienne not wanted by the various national associations.

"We did try to get any that might be returned by Argentina, but it has been confirmed that they want their full allocation, which is about the same as ours."

There was better news for the England team when it was confirmed yesterday that the single bookings collected by Sol Campbell, Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes will not be carried over now that the initial group stages have been completed.

Meanwhile, Sepp Blatter was yesterday defending match officials against what he sees as unmerited criticism by the media at the finals. "Leave the referees in peace, let them do their work," he said. "And to all those of you who have been complaining, if you watch the television two or three times, the referees made their decisions according to their conscience. I am confident the referees are doing their duties well, confidently and logically."

Blatter was speaking after the completion of a first round which saw referees brandish 16 red cards in 48 games, equalling the record set in the entire 1990 tournament, when 52 matches were played. However, there were fewer yellow cards as the average number of bookings in these finals was 3.7 per game, compared with 4.22 in 1994.

The Fifa president has also decreed that the number of countries represented at the next World Cup will remain at 32.