Football: Libero-Sorry tale of bums and seats

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HERE is the news from June, 2006: "The World Cup finals kick off at Wembley on Saturday with English supporters still seething at receiving fewer than 6,000 tickets for the opening match between France and Germany at the renovated 80,000- capacity stadium.

"The FA have been complaining for several months about ticketing rules which see 92 per cent of the seats going to the competing countries - and which mean that throughout the 128-game, eight-week tournament involving 64 countries only a small number of home fans will actually be allowed to attend matches - but 11th-hour pleas have come to nought. The world governing body, Fifa, continue to point out that the rules were changed as a result of pressure by the English over allocations in 1998. Meanwhile, London has been bracing itself for the influx of 74,000 French and German supporters...."

And back to today. The FA's outrage over the lack of World Cup tickets on behalf of its 27,000 travel-club members does seem a little strange given that Fifa say they published details in February 1996 of what allocations would be. Admittedly the FA, along with 15 other nations, had their eyes on Euro 96, not even having begun to qualify for France 98, but the number of tickets for a participating country was always going to be about eight per cent of any particular stadium's capacity.

Fifa's decision this week to instruct the French to release abroad just over 100,000 tickets from the 64 games - about 700 extra per nation - was a gesture to appease some of the more vociferous European nations. Where anyone got the idea that many thousands of tickets were going to be allocated to competing countries, or that last week's new allocation would be higher, is a mystery. It seems that last week an off-the-cuff remark within Fifa became a rumour, which became a news story.

Unfortunately there are unpleasant aspects to it all. In this country, which is arrogantly assuming it should have what it wants, it seems the French are being held to blame, closely followed by Fifa. Hundreds of hoolies will be on the loose as a result, it is claimed.

Consider the realities, though. For cash-flow reasons, the French organisers needed to sell tickets in advance of last December's draw. Would anyone other than local fans have wanted to buy tickets for games whose line- ups were not yet known? Or would the FA, or any other national association now apparently complaining, have wanted to hand over money as indemnity as an alternative? And now, after saying that safety and security are paramount, should tickets in unsegregated areas be taken from the French public and released?

In fact the system is not much different from Euro 96, even if some more tickets were then available to competing nations. The idea is that the host nation fills the seats and the world watches on TV. It is droit de seigneur, as it would be should England be awarded the 2006 finals. Unless, that is, England's protestations have led to the rules being reversed in favour of visiting nations.

CURIOUS. I telephoned the Tottenham Hotspur ticket line two weeks ago seeking two seats together for today's match against Bolton. Sold out except for a few with restricted view. I tried again on the off chance last Tuesday. "Plenty available," I was told and duly booked two.

It seems that as matches draw nearer - so the First Call agency, who act on behalf of Spurs, say - Tottenham release more tickets to them, if they themselves are unable to sell to personal callers at White Hart Lane. But what if you are unaware of this system? I could not believe that the game could have been a sell-out a fortnight ago and tried again, but how many callers to what Spurs advertise as their own ticket hotline number accepted that there were none left?

All this might explain why Spurs, who apparently are not best pleased with First Call giving enquirers the "sold out" message, are not filling the ground these days. Unless anyone can think of another reason.

AN Israeli company believe they have devised a method for watching football more realistically on the Internet. At the moment, the movement of players in games where pictures are available is said to be "slow and jerky" but the new system will give a better representation of movement with the help of microchips stitched into players' shirts - on the shoulders of some, no doubt. From slow and jerky to "virtual football", then. Make up your own punch-line; easy enough in Birmingham or South Manchester.

DECISIONS, decisions, and conflicting ones last week. Robbie Fowler was on-side, and should have been given the benefit of the doubt as Steve McManaman sent him clear in the first minute of the Liverpool derby, while John Hendrie did get the benefit when inches off-side for Barnsley against Manchester United.

And how annoying was it that obstruction was not given when a Barnsley defender prevented Teddy Sheringham from playing the ball as it went out of play? Almost as irritating as penalties not being given when Alan Shearer baulks - or is baulked by - Jimmy Floyd Haisselbank at corners. Were referees to award a few, and wear a microphone to inform spectators why, we might get less mess in the box at set pieces and more goals.

Examples of poor decisions? Perhaps, but certainly not dishonest ones and those who chant "cheat" at referees, to which Paul Durkin was subjected at Leicester v Chelsea last week, should be ashamed.