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Tennis: Wimbledon 99: Spivs find new ways to make their mark- up

OUR FRIENDLY Wimbledon ticket touts' familiar cry of "Anybody need two together?" seems to be missing from this year's All England Championships, writes Bill Pierce. All they have been asking the punters so far is: "Does anybody have a ticket to sell?"

There is a subtle difference in their methods now because, since an act of parliament made touting illegal a few years ago, the spivs have had to change their tactics - or be booted off the streets.

One of them, standing at his familiar post 50 yards away from Southfields tube station, explained: "The police would have me away if I said to people I was selling tickets, but they can't touch me - except for maybe obstruction, and there's no way I'm doing that - just for offering to buy spares."

What happens, of course, is that the touts now conduct their business off the streets. Once they've found a potential customer - including somebody who wants to sell them a ticket - they take him "round the corner" to close the deal. This reporter was offered pounds 200 for a pair of pounds 37 tickets on Court One last week, and so you can imagine the mark-up once the touts have got their hands on them.

One German fan is already rumoured to have paid pounds 1,000 for a seat on Centre Court on the first day.