Sir Alex Ferguson has been questioned as part of an inquiry into how match tickets assigned to him ended up being offered for sale by touts outside Old Trafford.
Ferguson said he had given tickets, printed with his name, to acquaintances and had no knowledge that they had found their way into the hands of touts. Since all staff tickets delivered to United's Carrington base have Ferguson's name on them – a carry-over from the days when they were delivered to the old Cliff training ground – it is unclear how many of the 16 were from the manager's own allocation or that of other members of staff. Ferguson has helped United's own inquiries, carried out in co-operation with Greater Manchester Police who were unable to confirm last night whether any of Ferguson's acquaintances had been questioned. United staff are entitled to distribute match-day tickets to whomsoever they choose.
Ferguson's link to the touting case came in a court case at Trafford magistrates' court, where four touts were given banning orders and fines. The men were part of a gang who worked from a hotel near the ground and advertised tickets for sale on the internet to fans, many of whom travelled from overseas and handed over up to £200 a ticket. The tickets that bore Ferguson's name were produced as part of the men's case, put by defence solicitor Barbara Webster, that they had permission from the club to distribute tickets.
All four men – Karl Rowe, 51, Mark Rowe, 47, Anthony Jones, 44, and Christopher Fallon, 51 – pleaded guilty to selling or otherwise distributing tickets without authorisation. United also wrote to the fans whose names were on the seized tickets, some of whom said they had given them to family and friends while others claimed they had been stolen. Three of the men have been banned from a one-mile radius of Old Trafford on match days and are not allowed to travel while United or England are in action abroad.
Detective Constable Paul Walls, who led the investigation, said: "These men ran an efficient and highly organised illegal operation, selling much sought-after football tickets at greatly inflated prices to simply line their own pockets. I must also condemn those registered ticket holders who have allowed their tickets to be used in this scam, again for the sake of a few extra quid."