Phones cut as fans jam hotline

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The Independent Football

Phone chaos erupted today as hundreds of thousands of fans jammed a ticket hotline for the Scotland versus England Euro 2000 qualifier at Hampden Park.

Phone chaos erupted today as hundreds of thousands of fans jammed a ticket hotline for the Scotland versus England Euro 2000 qualifier at Hampden Park.

It followed meltdown in England last week when an estimated 1.25 million people jammed a hotline for the second leg at Wembley.

Thirty-five telephone operators were staffing the 70 lines at the Glasgow Ticket Centre, and were expecting to be able to cope with around 2,000 calls every hour.

But when the lines opened at 9am most fans heard an engaged tone or a recorded message saying: "The telephone network is busy at the moment, please try again later. You have not been charged for this call."

Large parts of the Scottish phone network were jammed including the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Glasgow City Council, which is operating the hotline for the Scottish Football Association, said its whole phone system had crashed as callers across Scotland dialled to buy tickets.

A spokeswoman for BT said: "As far as we can see our system is working without any problems."

BT had installed a system of "call gapping" which was designed to prevent problems, but other phone companies may not have done this, she said.

"The call gapping is working but if other companies have not put it in place this would cause their whole network to crash and that would affect other numbers as well."

She said lines were not working in Edinburgh as well as Glasgow and engineers were investigating.

"If our rival operators have not put call gapping in, that will be the root of the problem," she said.

The company had said earlier that no telephone system could cope with the huge demand for tickets which had been forecast to equal that of England fans wanted to attend the Wembley match.

The phone company's main concern had been that neighbouring telephone exchanges did not stop working because of the sheer weight of calls and that 999 calls were protected.

But one of BT's rival operators hit back.

A spokesman for Telewest said: "We do have customers in Glasgow but the responsibility for call gapping would lie with British Telecom.

"We can introduce call gapping to a Telewest number but not to a British Telecom number, which I understand the call centre is.

"And we can't tell our customers not to try making calls - that is not realistic."

Phyllis Steel, director of arts development company Giant Productions in Partick, Glasgow, said she had been plagued with calls from desperate Scotland fans seeking tickets.

She said: "Our number is 0141 387 5000 while the number for the match tickets is 0141 287 5000.

"I've had around 18 calls so far from fans. I've had to tell them I've got tickets for sale - but they're for a children's Halloween performance on Sunday. I've not had any takers so far.

"I've complained to British Telecom and it's pretty annoying getting all these calls because I have to answer them to sell the show tickets.

"But I can understand the fans' disappointment because I'm a football fan myself and will be supporting Scotland though by the time today's over, I think I'll be needing a large gin and tonic."