Tickets going south

Apparently buying a ticket is no longer enough in the Irish capital, as Davy Millar explains the problem of fakes being illegally sold

With Wimbledon’s proposed move back in the news, there is something that potential visitors to Dublin should know. That match ticket in your back pocket, the one you purchased at an official outlet and which has a seat number printed on it; don’t count on that being enough to get you into the ground. In the Irish capital, a ticket merely represents a desire to see a game, not a right to be there.

That was the impression gained by Northern Ireland fans turning up for a recent ‘B’ international between the two countries. Several hundred supporters with legitimate tickets arrived at Tolka Park to find the entrances thronged with Dubliners queuing up to pay in at the turnstiles. When they asked the Irish police for directions to the ticket-holders’ gate, they were told that it didn’t exist and that they’d have to join the back of the queue. As kick-off approached, the turnstiles closed; Tolka’s crowd limit had been exceeded and nobody else was getting in.

When the bemused northerners approached the Gardai again, offering their tick-ets for inspection and asking for an explanation, they were told to get off the road, get on their buses and go home. IFA officials emerged from the ground but all they could offer was sympathy. As the NI team was battling their way to a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a comedy classic goal from George O’Boyle, their supporters were enduring the long trek home again.

To nobody’s surprise, the FAI emerged as the idiots responsible for the debacle. Initially they had decided that admission would be by payment at the turnstile but, following a request from the IFA, had set aside a section of the stand for visiting supporters and sent tickets to Belfast for distribution

Sadly, they didn’t bother to secure that area, or even tell anyone that it had been reserved, so when the gates opened the seats were swiftly occupied by home supporters. Even if they could have got in, the NI fans wouldn’t have got the seats they’d paid for.

The next day, a Radio Ulster interview with an FAI spokesman managed to further infuriate the northern fans. The southern official made it clear that, as far as he was concerned, the fault for non-admission lay with the visit-ors themselves – they hadn’t turned up early enough. He admitted that his organisation had underestimated public interest in the match and that, in hindsight, it might have been wise to cordon off the section for which tickets had been issued, but none of this was really their fault. In a final flourish, he explained that NI fans were privileged to receive tickets as the FAI hadn’t intended to issue any and that they had no plans to offer refunds.

It almost sounds like an experiment carried out on behalf of certain clubs from the Premiership. Imagine being able to issue 200,000 tickets for an important game and being allowed to dismiss the protests of the 145,000 people locked out by blaming them for not turning up on time. What a scam. However, this can safely be discounted; they might be able to dream up such a plan but the FAI are incapable of organising it.

They’ve since relented on the idea of refunds and it’s merely coincidence that this U-turn followed the news that the NI fans intended to sue them for both the price of the useless tickets and the cost of getting to Dublin. If some of those disgruntled supporters do persist in attempting to recoup their losses, it’ll be interesting to see how the FAI’s defence “it’s not our fault we’re incompetent” is received by the courts.

Any compensation would be welcome, not just to make up for missing out on a rare Northern victory in Dublin but also because every NI fan is short of cash at the moment. Due to the recent managerial appointment, we’ve all had to fork out for singing lessons. It’s no joke trying to stay in tune when singing “Lawrie McMenemy’s, Joe Jordan’s and Pat Jennings’ green, blue and white army”.

From WSC 134 April 1998. What was happening this month