The Football Association has conceded that for the first time in recent years England's travelling support may not take up the entirety of their ticket allocation for group stage matches at Euro 2012 because of the chronic shortage and expense of hotel rooms in Ukraine at next summer's tournament.
Traditionally the best supported team at major championships, many England fans have been discouraged by the lack of hotel rooms in Donetsk in particular where England play two of their group games against France on 11 June and Ukraine eight days later. As a result the FA has acknowledged that demand could be considerably lower than it was for the last European Championship for which England qualified, in Portugal in 2004.
In an open letter to members of its official supporters group, englandfans, yesterday, the FA said that it was "confident" that the allocations agreed with Uefa last week would be enough "to satisfy expected demand".
In other words, the usual heavy demand for tickets is not anticipated to be a factor, especially in Donetsk which is estimated to have a shortfall of at least 1,700 available hotel rooms. The situation is little better elsewhere. By way of example, the travel agent Thomson is offering a two-day package to watch the Kiev group game on 15 June against Sweden, which includes a two-night stay at a three-star hotel, for an eye-watering £1,244.
The exact ticket allocations for England fans are 7,065 for the game against France in Donetsk; 8,872 for the Sweden match in Kiev and 7,065 for the final group game against Ukraine in Donetsk. Should England progress further the allocation drops to 4,302 for the quarter-finals and 4,301 for the semi-finals. In the event of the team reaching the final, the FA would get 8,001 tickets to allocate to its supporters group.
The FA said yesterday that its allocation is predominantly in the two lowest-priced categories of ticket. The governing body revealed that "90 per cent of the tickets allocated to englandfans members will be within the most affordable price range, for group matches tickets will be priced between €30 and €70 each."
However, that will be of little consolation to England supporters facing hotel rates of £900 in Donetsk where the 52,500 Donbass Arena is situated. The local authorities have proposed to build a campsite to accommodate 3,500 supporters but that is unlikely to cater for all tastes.
Historically, the travelling England support has outnumbered even that of the Netherlands and Germany who also have large followings at international tournaments. That support has followed England to the extent that when the team played against the Euro 2004 hosts Portugal in the quarter-final of that tournament there were estimated to be more England supporters than Portuguese in the Stadium of Light in Lisbon.
Mark Perryman, a spokesman for England fans' groups, said he believed many supporters would wait until closer to the tournament to make their decision as to whether they would travel to Ukraine. "The big row at the 2006 World Cup was the lack of tickets and in particular the amount that went to sponsors," he said. "I don't think there will be quite the same anger about because there won't be the excessive demand. But if England finish top of their group I wouldn't be surprised if a few more fans try to get there."
Perryman said that many England fans were planning to stay outside of Donetsk and Kiev, even up to 150 miles away and travel in and out on the day of the match to avoid paying the excessive prices of city-centre hotels. There were as many as 250,000 England supporters in Gelsenkirchen when England played Portugal in the quarter-final of the World Cup in Germany in 2006.
"Around 10,000 went to South Africa last summer but this year, for the casual sports fan, there is more of a choice," Perryman added. "Instead of spending a weekend at the Euros they might choose to go to the Olympics. If David Beckham is captaining the GB team then that is bound to be a factor."