Police blame the FA for uneven Cup final ticket allocation

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The Independent Football

The Football Association's explanation for allocating up to 40,000 FA Cup final tickets to Manchester United fans and only 22,400 to Millwall fans was dismissed as "completely untrue" by the police yesterday.

The Football Association's explanation for allocating up to 40,000 FA Cup final tickets to Manchester United fans and only 22,400 to Millwall fans was dismissed as "completely untrue" by the police yesterday.

According to the South Wales force, which will be responsible for policing the Millennium Stadium showpiece on 22 May, the disparity in distribution was entirely the FA's choice, and nothing to do with police demands surrounding security.

The police sought to clarify the situation after being accused of trying to eliminate neutral areas from the ground. Such a policy would undermine England's end-of-season finale, to which thousands of non-aligned members of the wider football community flock each year.

Earlier this week, the FA's chief executive, Mark Palios, met with Millwall's chairman, Theo Paphitis, to discuss allocations. A joint statement afterwards said: "Ticketing policy will be reviewed in the future. Millwall believe, and the FA concur, that they and Manchester United may have been able to offer valuable advice and knowledge to those responsible for the safety and security around the event."

The statement added: "The FA made the decision on respective ticket allocations after taking into consideration the requirements of the various safety and security agencies, including a directive from South Wales Police that there should be no neutral areas in the stadium - now or in the future."

South Wales Police refuted that central claim yesterday. "That is completely untrue," a spokeswoman said. "Of course there can be neutral areas, and we're happy for neutral fans to attend. Our only concern is that fans who arrive with tickets in neutral areas are genuinely neutral. That helps to ensure that rival supporters are not mixing in the same areas, which presents a security hazard."

Of the Millennium Stadium's 72,000 capacity, 28,002 tickets will go directly to United fans and 21,400 to Millwall. Around 9,000 seats will be taken by VIPs, hospitality guests, the media and sponsors, or be left empty for segregation purposes. That leaves a balance of 13,000 "neutral" tickets, distributed by the FA to county associations and to clubs. The allocation of these is continuing to cause controversy.

The police say the FA should ask the counties and clubs how they want their allocations split - United-supporting neutrals, Millwall-supporting neutrals or total neutrals - and the stadium will be segregated accordingly. Indeed, Chief Inspector Mike Long of SWP said yesterday: "Anyone with a 'clubs and counties' ticket wishing to attend as a genuinely neutral supporter may do so. They will be seated, by the FA, in an area between the two sets of fans."

But the FA is not going to distribute the 13,000 tickets in that way, believing it to be a cumbersome, unrealistic system. Instead, counties and clubs in London, the south-east and Kent will receive a total of 1,000 of the "neutral" tickets and be told that buyers must attend as either Millwall fans or neutrals. They will be seated in the east stand and, on the advice of the FA, be policed as Millwall fans. Anyone turning up in United's colours will be refused admission.

Every other county and club in the country (receiving a total of 12,000 tickets between them) will be told their tickets must go to United fans or neutrals. The FA believes that United's country-wide following will mean that most, if not all, of the 12,000 will end up with United supporters. Buyers will be seated in a block in the west stand and be policed as United supporters. Anyone turning up in Millwall colours will be turned away.

Effectively, the concept of the neutral fan has been abolished - by the FA's interpretation of the police's desire for neutrals to be neutral.

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