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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 June 2006

A high price for the beautiful game

SOCIALIST PARTY member Kevin Miles is the International Co-ordinator for the Football Supporters Federation - the fans official spokesperson. He is in Germany at the moment, with the "Fan's Embassy."
JOHN REID, author of Reclaim the Game, interviewed Kevin for the socialist.

In England there's been an outcry about real England fans not being able to get tickets. What's your general impression about the price and method of distribution of tickets?

Sadly it's as much of a problem now as it has been over the last few tournaments. FIFA show no sign of getting wise to it. Something like 40% of all World Cup tickets are given to sponsors, hospitality packages and non-competing football associations. In other words they're not available for fans directly from FIFA at face value.

That doesn't mean that they don't end up in the hands of fans. What it means is that those fans have to pay hundreds of pounds from touts because those sectors are, in our experience, the biggest source of tickets on the black market. The asking price for a ticket for the England-Trinidad game was E600.

The black market is an outrage and it exploits people's love for the game. Most of the black market ticket deals aren't an individual offloading a ticket but are activities by organised gangs.

But all the measures FIFA have talked about for combating the black market are aimed at punishing the end user. They're aimed at preventing the person who has actually paid out the money for the ticket getting into the stadium.

By definition, every ticket on the black market is a ticket which has been originally supplied by FIFA to somebody who is more interested in making money than watching a football match. That's the essence of the black market.

Very few tickets bought by England fans through official channels find their way onto the black market. Genuine football fans wouldn't part with them for love nor money.

Microcosm

There was a microcosm of the whole black market problem at the Togo Korea game. McDonalds had been running competitions for tickets but no flights or accommodation, so many people didn't pick up the tickets they'd won.

McDonalds realised they'd got hundreds of tickets left. Their official policy is for the reps to go into town to the McDonalds restaurant and give the tickets to staff.

But what they actually did was distribute the tickets in the town. The touts were the first to get their hands on those tickets and walk 100 yards down the road and knock them out for 200.

It's proof that sponsors get too many tickets, proof that they don't really care what happens to them, proof that tickets go to the touts and proof that the touts make a fortune out of it.

The general impression back here is that there's a good atmosphere amongst the fans . Is this true?

The atmosphere is very very very good. In my experience the biggest single factor in whether a tournament passes off peacefully or not is the policing. Inevitably with big crowds, you're going to get all sorts. And some people drink more than is sensible.

The crucial thing is whether the police deal with the one or two minor incidents as minor incidents and keep it that way and have a relaxed approach to everybody else, or whether they escalate things into confrontations with whole groups. So far the German police have had a relaxed approach.

There's a lot of England fans just sick of the reputation that we had and in particular sick of the consequences - fairly brutal policing and suspicion and hostility everywhere we went. That was a reputation won by bad behaviour in the past but the bad behaviour was only ever by a small minority. Over the last few years we've seen a much broader range of people following the English national team.

It's not my view but a lot of people think behaviour has improved because the make up of the fans is more middle class. What's your view?

There is a broader base of England supporters. But the working-class support for the team remains. People said of the last World Cup that Japan was so expensive to get to that you only got nice respectable middle class people travelling. So that was the reason for the good behaviour.

But to get a ticket for the World Cup in Japan through the English FA you had to qualify on their loyalty system. So the people who got the tickets had been to all the qualifying matches.

There were smaller numbers because a lot of people couldn't afford to go. But this is their holiday, this is what they save up for. The World Cup every four years is the big one.

In England the St George's flag is flying not just amongst white working-class people but even small sections of black and Asian people. What's your view on that?

The St George's cross has now been firmly wrested away from the far right. The idea that English national identity has to be nationalistic, xenophobic and racist has completely gone now.

I'm standing looking on the square in Nuremberg. While most of the England fans are still white I can see Asians who are England fans and there's a lot of women.

The white working-class men are still here supporting England but the fan base has definitely moved beyond that. Football fans reflect all the other trends in society and there will be racists among the white English fans. But the idea that they're rallying around the St George's flag supporting the far right has gone.

In the years I've been doing this the atmosphere has become more open-minded and friendly. It also develops over the course of the tournament.

At the first game, people are getting used to the idea of being abroad and mixing with other fans. That's when they tend to keep their national identity. But as the tournament goes on you get more mixing of the fans and people get more relaxed, particularly when they're not encountering hostility all the time.

At the same time you have people's strongest identification with their nationality and yet more interaction with other nationalities than they do at any other stage of their lives.

How is the Fans Embassy going?

Really well, it gets more and more popular support as we go along. The idea that it's an independent organisation by fans for fans, providing advice and information, has become enormously popular.

The reason it's trusted by supporters is because it's entirely independent. They know they can come to talk to us whoever they are.

What's you opinion on these issues? Write to the socialist: PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. editors@socialistparty.org.uk


Reclaim the Game

by John Reid

5 including postage and packing

Buy online: Reclaim the game
Or available from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London, E11 1YD or phone 020 8988 8789.
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In The Socialist 22 June 2006:


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NHS cuts... closures... privatisation... We're fighting back!

Fight the cuts in community services


Socialist Party youth and students

Fight Low Pay

Socialist Students receive standing ovation


Socialist Party feature

US 'empire' in crisis


Socialist Party campaigns

Community protests at trigger-happy policing

Arise...Sir tax-avoider!

Labour defeated over schools and pool...

Battle of the Thatcherites!

Football: A high price for the beautiful game


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Secuestro Express


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International socialist news and analysis

Socialists oppose the war in Sri Lanka

Soweto uprising 1976: The powder keg ignites


Socialist Party workplace news

Brown attacks public sector workers

Anger at inept handling of pensions dispute


 

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