Football: Ticket to a worrying world

Ian Ridley in St Denis fears black market clouds over this summer's showpiece
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The Independent Online
WORLD CUP finals tickets will be "very difficult" to come by on any black market, according to the security director of the French organising committee, Dominique Spinosi. It is because a system that precludes touting has been established, she insists.

In fact, if my experience of last Wednesday's inaugural match at the 80,000-seater Stade de France in St Denis, near Paris - venue for the opening match and the final - is anything to go by, it will be easy enough. As with most things in football, the solution is a wad of money.

At 5.45pm, three hours before kick-off of the France v Spain game, the new La Plaine station was already debouching its hordes down long ramps to a pedestrian route that carried reminders of Olympic Way at Wembley and stretched some 400 yards to a mother ship of a stadium resembling the Stadio delle Alpi, Turin, where England's semi-final against Germany took place eight years ago.

Here stood Patrick, his tall, well-built frame ideally suited to his trade. Not that he was the sinister, seedy figure who whispers " 'oo wants two togevver?" outside a Premiership ground. His English was comprehensible and he was smart and polite. In fact, he called himself "Patrick de Paris" and he might even operate out of his own boutique on the Boulevard St Michel. "Tout de Sweet", perhaps.

The asking - or rather receiving - price was 600 Francs (about pounds 60) for a 200F ticket, in the lowest of the three tiers on the northern side of the stadium. Arguing seemed inadvisable but also unnecessary because of the reasonable deal. Nearby police took little or no interest in the proceedings.

"You are from England?" Patrick enquired. "You want World Cup tickets also?" Although, he explained, it would be a little difficult - a petit ploy to justify a high price, peut-etre? - he could get them. Certainly, for the opening match here between Scotland and Brazil on 10 June. Probably for the final on 12 July. Excuse him, he was a little pre-occupied with arrangements for the tennis at Roland Garros but give him a call in early May. He supplied his mobile and home phone numbers.

There are about 2.5 million tickets available to the public for this summer's 64 matches, 60 per cent going to French fans, 20 per cent to national federations and the rest to sponsors and sanctioned tour operators, who then charge exorbitant sums for package tours as demand far outstrips supply. Thus the only feasible official access is through the FA's England Travel Club, which has some 30,000 members, and the allocation - at eight per cent of capacity - is likely to be about 4,500 against Tunisia in Marseilles, 3,000 for Romania in Toulouse and a few hundred more against Colombia in Lens.

Such allocations are clearly inadequate, even if standard. More people from neighbouring European countries will want, or will be able to afford, to come than from, say, Chile. So it is still possible that despite all the furore, we could see empty places in expensive seats, as at Euro 96. The French - unlike less discerning but touchingly excited fans in the United States four years ago - may not be interested in certain matches and some countries may also not take up their allocations.

But Ms Spinosi warns people against travelling without tickets, saying that none will be available. Since French fans have to provide personal details in return for buying four tickets per person; they cannot then sell them on without risk of prosecution. None of this is likely to cut much ice with Roberto of Rio, Gavin of Glasgow or Lee of London, however. Or Patrick de Paris, for that matter.

While the summer will differ from last week in profile of audience, it remains clear that touted tickets will be available. It can only be hoped that the French system precludes large blocks of tickets reaching the black market, as happened in Rome last October, when trouble flared during the Italy v England game, and that segregation plans are not seriously undermined.

The best hope, however, is that the crowds are as good natured as Wednesday's 78,836, who braved an excruciating temperature of minus five degrees for more than three hours to witness a spectacular dance and laser show and a less spectacular game, won 1-0 by France.

The Stade de France, which will also host England's rugby union match against France on Saturday, has been described as a pounds 230m white elephant and there are concerns for its financial future, with Paris St Germain so far declining to move there from the Parc des Princes.

It has, though, been completed on time and budget, unlike those built by the brinkmen of Italy eight years ago. In addition it is well served by the Metro and three railway stations, the furthest 20 minutes walk away. Compare that with the USA four years ago when it was often that far from the car park. Criticisms are mostly minor and a matter of taste. Since the site was a disused refinery, it is naturally some distance from restaurants, though the fast food in and around the stadium is better than most places - pot noodles excepted - as might be expected in France. No alcohol is available.

Though the stadium can feel a cold concoction of concrete and steel, at least the architects, by using retractable seating, have ensured that the running track does not divorce the spectator from the action. But something will need to be done about amplifying the sound, since the "Marseillaise" could barely be heard, not only because a helicopter hovered overhead.

Police searches before the game were brisk and efficient but a concern during the match was people being allowed to stand in aisles and exits and from the playing point of view the frosty pitch was bumpy and bare in patches. Curiously, undersoil heating has not been installed and one can only hope that Spring and early summer will hone the surface. One glitch saw the game stopped after a minute to remove a cable used for a futuristic pre-match show which featured dancers suspended from the roof. "Elastronauts" they were called and the French team could have done with figures as mobile.

The match confirmed once more how important is the goal-scoring Zinedine Zidane as midfield fount, with Youri Djorkaeff his sidekick, but the concern remains the absence of a convincing spearhead up front. Monaco's 20-year-old prodigy David Trezeguet was tried for 15 minutes, during which he wasted two good chances, in place of Auxerre's Stephane Guivarc'h, but discontent over Aime Jacquet simmers.

The Spanish, too, lacked a finisher ahead of their clever midfield pair, Luis Enrique and Raul, and it prevents them being more, at this point, than the good each-way bet they are. Strange, really, for two nations with some of the best strikers in the world, as any British holidaymaker will testify. Still, these are early days; 130 before l'ouverture. Time enough to apply tincture to the teething troubles, for form to peak. And for Patrick de Paris to find "deux togethair, monsieur".