[an error occurred while processing this directive] BBC News & Sport | World Cup 98 | Meet the BBC Team | No ticket to ride

Sunday, May 3, 1998 Published at 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK

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No ticket to ride

It was a split second that stretched into an eternity.

Deep into injury-time, Italian forward Christian Vieri rose to head goalward. Goalkeeper David Seaman was beaten but the ball passed inches wide of the post. And in that moment I knew we had made it, my national team, England, had qualified for France 98 - the World Cup.

Celebrations had barely started when the thought struck. "I've got to go - but how do I get a ticket for even a single match in the most important tournament of the world's most popular game?"

By fair means or foul?

The legitimate route to a ticket is straightforward and clearly laid out by the organisers of France 98, the CFO:

  • Be important enough to receive a complimentary ticket - a non-starter.

  • Book a holiday package through one of the 17 authorised operators worldwide - limited availability and too expensive for me.

  • Have a home address in France - the CFO is selling around 60% of tickets to French residents - Non!

  • Apply to your national football association which has been given between 2,000 and 4,000 tickets per game - Bingo.

Of course I should have had enough faith in my team to join the England Members Club at the start of the qualifying campaign. That way I could be among the FA's elite.

But I still hoped to sneak in by quickly sending off an application form, complete with carefully posed - "you can rely on me to be an ambassador for English football" - passport photo enclosed.

"Ticket distribution is an ugly trick," warns Graham Watson, a British European Parliament member (1'14")
My membership number is a hopeless 23,028, but when in early April the FA's rejection letter arrived it was as crushing as a failed job interview - "what do I do with my life now?"

Finally, and unexpectedly, a potential lifeline - the infamous ticket hotline.

Forced by the threat of European Union legal action to release more tickets to non-French EU citizens, the CFO set up a phoneline with 60 operators selling 110,000 credit-card bookings over a period of about a week - first come, first served.

Share the misery of the World Cup ticket hotline (40")
In the opening hour of business on April 22, I, and four million others from Britain alone, optimistically dialled 00 331 49 87 53 54. It was one long engaged tone. Maybe, if I'd just redialled once more instead of giving up after 253 attempts ... such was the agony of the ticket hotline.

Bending the rules

But I'm still going to go. Leave from work has been booked and ticket or no ticket, I'm off.

However, things were getting desperate. I didn't have a single name, address or phone number of a friendly French person willing to buy a ticket for me. So investigations turned to shadier outlets.

Tickets are being offered by third parties on the Web at well above face value. Many are obtained from French residents keen to resell their own tickets for a profit and avoid selling to fans in person.

But there are risks for the buyer. The CFO says it will take legal action to stop unauthorised sales.

Then there's the hurly-burly of the real black market - the ticket touts.

TV advert - do not travel without a ticket
Both the English FA and the British Government stress: "No ticket, don't travel." A £1m advertising campaign hammers home the message.

They say French laws on ticket touting are strict and "will be rigidly applied".

[ image: There are doubts over whether fans will have to prove their identity]
There are doubts over whether fans will have to prove their identity
But the French authorities do not seem to be on the same wavelength. In April, the French tourism minister, Michelle Demessine, issued a warm invitation for all British people visit France and "share the atmosphere of celebration".

The head of French police security for the tournament, René-George Querry, has also described claims of turnstile identity checks on all ticket-holders as "totally unimaginable".

The vast majority of tickets remain with French citizens. For most games they will be neutral and come match-day the temptation to sell to a foreign fan for a healthy profit could prove irresistible.

For the thousands of football fans from all over the world who, come June, travel to France in hope, and I'll be among them, this then is the Holy Grail - a Frenchman with a ticket and a heart of gold.

Watch this space as our roving fan prepares for France 98.

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In this section:

Radio 5 Live's France 98 Coverage

Platini - legend on and off the pitch

Brazil 1950

France 1938

Mexico 1970

England 1966

Italy 1934

Argentina 1978

Germany 1974

Chile 1962

No ticket to ride

Tackling new rules

BBC TV at the heart of France 98