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Tickets wanted, any price

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Mihir Bose | 10:58 UK time, Wednesday, 23 May 2007

The first person I met as I walked out of customs into the main arrival hall at Athens airport was a Liverpool supporter carrying a cardboard placard saying: "Want a ticket, will pay any price".

As the hours have ticked down towards Wednesday night's Champions League final, I have seen many more such requests from Liverpool fans in the squares of Athens.

For every banner proclaiming the glory of Liverpool Football Club there are at least 100 seeking tickets - the city feels full of Liverpool fans badgering anyone they can for a ticket.

They even besieged the new American owners of Liverpool - as I waited to interview George Gillett I lost count of the fans who came up to him asking for tickets.


He had a nice jokey way of dealing with it.

He would pat his trousers saying he was carrying plenty of tickets, then turn out his pockets to show he did not have any. The gestures were made with a smile and the disappointed fans left laughing.

But for the great majority of fans, the search for tickets is not a laughing matter.

Gillett and his partner Tom Hicks told me they are not happy with Uefa's distribution of tickets, and will be taking it up with European football's governing body.


Their disatisfaction arises from the fact that they feel the Olympic Stadium is rather small, and that on top of that up to 6,000 tickets in the 62,000-seater stadium cannot be sold because of poor sightlines.

In the usual way, an additional 5,000 were given by Uefa to national football associations across Europe, which must have some access to their showpiece occassion.

Liverpool's owners also justify the fact that of the 17,000 tickets Liverpool got - Milan got the same number - only 11,000 went to the fans, with the remainder being distributed to others connected with the club. They say the club employed the same model when Liverpool reached the final in Istanbul two years ago, and that they have a number of other obligations, to former players, sponsors and so on.

Some would argue that the story of Liverpool fans wanting tickets sounds rather like the playing of an old English record. Every time an English club plays in a major final we have similar stories of scarcity and alleged wrong-headed distribution of tickets by the football authorities.

Uefa not only rejects such charges but feels that this is an English problem partly created by the way English clubs and tour operators work.

A spokesman for Uefa explained to me that, unlike continental fans, the English travel to a final even though they do not have tickets.

"For the Uefa Cup final in Glasgow last week, the fans of Seville and Espanyol who did not have tickets stayed at home," he said. "In England, tour operators sell packages to fans without any tickets and this results in large number of English fans arriving in hope and being very disappointed."

Uefa also argues that its distribution did cater to the fans.

With the two teams getting 34,000 tickets and a further 9,000 distributed on the internet, fans have got nearly 70% of the tickets, a far higher percentage than for World Cup matches.

Indeed, Uefa told me that it is not entirely happy with the way Liverpool have distributed their allocation.

The root of the problem is that English fans bring a passion and a commitment to their team and their football that remains unique.

On the flight from London I sat next to a Chelsea fan and and in front of two Liverpool supporters. (The fact that they were friends shows that English football is not always hopelessly tribal.) And the price they had paid for the tickets were staggering £1,250 each for a £61 ticket.

These lucky fans could probably afford it, but it just showed the lengths that English football fans will go to see Europe's showpiece game.

Like the new owners of Liverpool, I suspect many of the fans who travelled here ticketless will find their way inside the Olympic stadium this evening.

I can only hope that this final, unlike the one at Wembley on Saturday, lives up to their expectations.

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