Long billed as the ‘real inauguration’ of the Algarve stadium, the England versus Portugal football friendly has been eagerly anticipated by England fans living and working in the region. But chaos reigned when tickets for the match were released to the general public on Monday, February 2. Contrary to the information given to The Resident by the Algarve Portuguese Football Federation, there were no tickets for sale at the Algarve Stadium at 9am on the day of release. When police redirected purchasers to the Federation’s headquarters in Faro, there were no tickets available there either.
The mood among fans waiting to buy tickets was one of bemusement and anger. “We’ve travelled from Albufeira to queue for tickets; we were at the stadium for 9am,” said one. “Why did they give out this information if they weren’t 100 per cent sure they would have the tickets?” Others reflected on the Portuguese Football Federation’s ability to organise the Euro 2004 tournament as a whole, if gaining access to tickets for a friendly match had proved such an ordeal. “I wonder what the arrangements for the match itself will be like if this is how badly organised the ticket sales are?” commented one angry England fan, who had spent two hours in Faro trying to track down tickets.
English fans excluded online
Meanwhile, fans attempting to buy online were surprised when, first of all, the tickets were not available as promised on plateia.iol.pt, then, less than an hour later, they were marked sold out. Tickets became available again an hour later, but only to Portuguese nationals. Residents, visitors and anyone buying online from abroad were excluded, apparently for ‘security reasons’.
In a bid to clarify the situation, The Resident contacted the Algarve Portuguese Football Federation, plateia.iol.pt, and the Portuguese Football Federation several times, and received conflicting information from each. Plateia told us that they could not sell tickets to English people, or indeed anyone who was not Portuguese by birth, by order of the Portuguese Football Federation. “That’s what we’ve been told, so that’s what I’m doing,” explained one of the telephone sales people, Marcos. “If you buy tickets from us, but you’re not Portuguese, you might not be let in, so I wouldn’t chance it.” Next, the Algarve Portuguese Football Federation told us that tickets, available for purchase by all nationalities, “might go on sale at the Federation headquarters next Monday (February 9)”. Asked why tickets for the friendly match were available online, but not at the headquarters, the spokesman told us: “That’s a very good question and one we’re looking into right now.”
All sold out
However, by this time, Sr César, the manager responsible for ticket sales at the national Portuguese Football Federation (FPF), had confirmed that no tickets would go on sale in the Algarve and apologised for the confusion. “The tickets allocated for non-Portuguese fans would have gone on sale in Faro this morning if there had been any left, but they are all sold out,” he told us. César admitted that the FPF knew the tickets were all allocated some time ago, but that the federation had neglected to release a statement explaining this to the press. “I am sorry for the confusion,” he said. “This has got nothing to do with discrimination against the English, a fear of hooliganism or anything else; it’s simply that the tickets allocated to England fans were oversubscribed and so none are available for sale at our Algarve branch or online.”
César went on to reveal that some England fans living in the Algarve had been allocated tickets for the England v Portugal clash after applying via an application form, apparently available online on the FPF site some time ago, and that another 70 fans had successfully applied for tickets in person at the Lisbon headquarters. When asked how many tickets in total he had allocated to England fans, Cesar refused to comment.
However, a spokesman from the FPF press office was happy to confirm that of around 30,000 match tickets, 2,715 had been sent to the English FA for distribution among England fans in England and 1,760 tickets had been reserved for English residents living in Portugal. The rest of the tickets are only available to Portuguese fans.
As England fans across the region came to terms with the fact that they will not be able to watch their team play in the inaugural international match in the Algarve stadium, a structure that was heavily financed by the region’s local câmaras, the mood was one of sadness and resignation. “Well after all, this is Portugal – what did we expect?” said one. “As the kick-off to the Euro 2004 tournament moves ever closer, it seems a shame that the terrible organisation of this ‘friendly’ has soured the mood of so many of us football fans.”