Scottish fans jam phone network in rush for tickets

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The Independent Online

Chaos again marked the battle to attend next month's Scotland-England Euro 2000 qualifier yesterday, when a million calls an hour jammed the hotline selling tickets for the Scottish leg of the fixture.

Chaos again marked the battle to attend next month's Scotland-England Euro 2000 qualifier yesterday, when a million calls an hour jammed the hotline selling tickets for the Scottish leg of the fixture.

The fiasco was a repeat of last week's mayhem when 1.25 million people jammed the hotline for the second match at Wembley. Many fans, having tried for hours to get through, were doubly disappointed when their call was answered by a firm selling tickets for "Magic Bob's Hallowe'en Party".

"People are very fed up after being on the phone for such a long time and then hearing someone say: "Hello, Magic Bob's," said Phyllis Steel, of Giant Productions, who saidnone of the football fans had opted for her Samhain celebration instead.

The mistake, caused by over-enthusiastic callers misdialling one digit, followed BT's decision to close down the Scottish Football Association's booking system after selling four tickets at 9am as 17,000 fans tried to get through in the first minute alone. By then, large parts of the Scottish phone network had been jammed including the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Glasgow City Council, which was operating the hotline for the Scottish Football Association, said its whole phone system had crashed. "It is very disappointing," said a spokesman for the Scottish FA. "We have been doing everything we can to prepare for today since they had problems down in England."

The hotline reopened almost two hours later. However, even after that, most callers were greeted by a message saying: "Then telephone system is busy at the moment. Please try again later."

There were none of the accusations of racism which accompanied the earlier round of sales, when fans trying to buy tickets for the Wembley match were disconnected if they had Scottish accents, names or an address north of the border. Following complaints to the Commission for Racial Equality against the English Football Association for its ticketing policy, the Scottish FA made it clear anyone was free to buy the tickets for Hampden Park.

Part of the reason for the panic yesterday was that so few tickets - 15,000 - were being made available to the Scottish public, less than half the number that went on the open market for the London match.

Thirty-five telephone operators were staffing the 70 lines at the Glasgow Ticket Centre, and had been expecting to be able to sell tickets to around 2,000 callers every hour.

A BT spokeswoman said the company had installed a system of "call gapping" which was designed to prevent problems, but said other phone companies may not have done so.

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

A spokesman for one of BT's rivals, Telewest disagreed. She 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."

Most of the tickets on sale for the match at Hampden Park on 13 November were expected to have been sold by the time the hotline closed last night.

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