Ticket fiasco continues

Controversy continues to surround next week’s Portugal versus England friendly match. Around 2,000 football fans were left angry and disillusioned earlier this week when they were once again misinformed by the Algarve Football Association about the possibility of buying tickets for the game. When fans arrived at the AFA’s Faro offices, they discovered that the illusive tickets had sold out hours before. AFA staff called for police assistance after the mood in the crowd turned from anticipation to anger as AFA officials revealed that all the tickets had sold out within three hours of the office opening that morning. This came despite earlier assurances over the phone that the tickets would not arrive for purchase until the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the two football associations involved in their distribution have finally clarified the mystery of where all the tickets for the Portugal versus England game have gone. Despite accusations of mismanagement, the Portuguese Football Federation claims that the way the ticket sales have been handled is completely normal. “For reasons of security and because this game is considered ‘high risk’, we only printed around 27,000 tickets,” explained Amândio Carvalha, vice president of the federation. “We sent 3,000 to the English FA and reserved more than 1,000 for English people living in the Algarve. We sent around 8,000 tickets to our sponsors, various associations, the Faro and Loulé Câmaras and other invited guests. The rest went to the AFA.” Eduardo do Vale, the vice president of the AFA, also remained unrepentant in the face of the criticism. “We received around 15,000 tickets from the Portuguese Football Federation,” he confirmed. We sent several thousand to the various clubs affiliated to us, some were reserved and we put the remainder (1,200) up for sale – they sold out immediately.” As both English and Portuguese fans continue to express their dismay over the confusion, one thing is certain, tickets for the match are now officially sold out and the stadium ticket office will be closed on the day of the game.

Friendly is first test:

Despite the low number of England fans who have managed to obtain tickets for the Portugal v England friendly next week, the Algarve match is being viewed as the first official test for around 20 plain-clothes British police officers, who will mingle among crowds in order to identify potential troublemakers. General Leonel Carvalho, who heads the police security at the championship, said the friendly, “will be a good training ground. It is the perfect game for experience. There will be no pressure for a brilliant result. However, there will still be just enough for us to learn things.” Carvalho went on to reveal that fans will be segregated into three groups during the match – around 3,000 English FA-approved supporters will be in one stand, around 1,000 expatriates will be in another and Portuguese fans will fill the remainder of the stadium.

Travel ban on thugs:

Meanwhile, back in the UK, a massive clampdown on violent football supporters has been launched to prevent England being kicked out of the Euro 2004 tournament. European soccer chiefs have warned that any repeat of the riots that marred Euro 2000 in Belgium and Holland will result in England being sent home. The result is that more than 2,000 English hooligans are now the subject of a travel ban, designed to stop them from attending the Euro 2004 championship. Around 50,000 England football fans are expected to boost the estimated 200,000 British who will visit Portugal this summer. But fans on the blacklist will be obliged to surrender their passports and appear at police stations regularly throughout the competition. “This legislation is very strict and will work well,” said David Swift, chief of Staffordshire Police and spokesperson for the Association of Police Chiefs.

Gradually escalating response:

Despite British confidence in the ban, Portuguese police officials have confirmed that they are preparing to use pepper gas and water cannons for the first time, should English football hooligans riot during the football championship. And General Carvalho has confirmed that his policy is one of gradually increasing response. “It goes from ‘softly softly’ to half-soft, to hard and then aggressive,” he said.

Will fans behave?:

While they prepare for England’s worst, tournament organisers continue to insist that they are delighted that the team has qualified for Euro 2004. António Florênçio, the communications director, said: “When Portugal beat England in the 2000 competition in Eindhoven, your fans behaved like princes. They applauded our team off the pitch. And your country is one of the great footballing nations of Europe.” However, as police officers, politicians and English residents in Portugal prepare for the first real test of the months of preparation and planning by security chiefs, it is English football’s long history of hooliganism that is at the forefront of most people’s minds. “Let’s just hope that we don’t have to apologise to our neighbours after the match,” commented one English resident, living in Albufeira.