MONDAY VIEWPOINT : Just the ticket for crowd trouble

Will the plans for Euro '96 leave the FA red-faced, asks Steve Beauchamp
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The Independent Online
Last Thursday afternoon, as a worried English public and, no doubt, Uefa and Fifa officials looked on, Glen Kirton, the tournament director for next year's European Championship, sought to assure everyone that those on the police's list of banned football fans would not get tickets for Euro '96.

"We will be able to look at any person in any seat in any match, and be able to say who that person is - or who is it is supposed to be," Kirton said. But spend 30 seconds studying the ticket arrangements for the tournament, which is to be staged at eight different grounds in England, and you will see how rash this claim is.

The perfect ticketing system for a major international football competition has yet to be devised and, in fairness, the FA has done better than most. Undoubtedly, they have learned from past tournaments, where shambolic ticket sales left supporters wanting tickets unable to buy them, while others with little or no interest in a particular game had plenty.

For Euro '96, overseas supporters are guaranteed roughly the same allocation for each match (more for games at Wembley), thus avoiding a repeat of the England v West Germany World Cup semi-final dbcle in 1990. On that occasion, the FA - faced with a reduced allocation from the quarter-final of over 3,000 - had to buy from touts to satisfy demand.

Countries competing in Euro '96 can request and pay for tickets in tranches, so that only when they have sold one tranche will they be supplied with another. This should reduce the temptation for an overseas FA to fuel the black market and recoup their outlay on tickets that they cannot resell. Unclaimed tickets may be sold to English-based supporters of competing countries, such as Italy and Greece.

However, it is in the area of their domestic sales policy where the FA's assurances look most vulnerable. The system of progressive loyalty, which allows you to attend a quarter- final only if you have been to three Group games, and a semi if you have been to a quarter, is fair, but some people will dispose of part of their allocation once the fixtures become known. In any case, up to four sets of tickets are allowed per application, but only one name need be given.

With 1.3 million tickets available - 800,000 of which are being sold in England - it would be unrealistic to expect that every holder will be known to the FA, Uefa and the police. A black market, and thus a degree of desegregation, is inevitable.

What was not inevitable, but which will certainly encourage touting with all of its attendant security concerns, is the policy relating to the final itself. Those who are not season-ticket holders must purchase two tickets for both the quarter- and semi-finals, plus three Group games, to qualify for one ticket for the final.

For two people, you can double that number. Thus each supporter will have up to five excess tickets, and with the likelihood that they will resell them, Glen Kirton's assertion looks as full of holes as an Emmenthal cheese. The FA seems blind to the problem, but it has estimated that upwards of 200,000 extra tickets will be sold this way.

With domestic ticket sales for the final now well advanced, a returns facility at the box office, as operated by theatre and concert venues, seems the only practical, if still partial, solution.

Supporters could return their unwanted tickets and if they are subsequently resold they get their money back, possibly minus a small handling fee. At least this way, the FA could ensure that tickets reach people who need them.

The present policy on reselling tickets - returns are allowed up to 30 June 1995, and then cases are considered on their merit - while better than nothing, is still inadequate .

Much of the desegregation at Euro '96 will not create problems. However, if there are difficulties and violence, will Glen Kirton's words, like Bert Millichip's claim in 1992 that: "We can control spectators at home", made to quell a partly media-induced hysteria, return to haunt him?

Steve Beauchamp is the International Officer of the Football Supporters' Association.

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