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Northern Ireland Euro 2016 ticket process was car crash in the making from very start

By Owen Polley

Published 11/02/2016

Big fan: Barry McClure
Big fan: Barry McClure

On Tuesday some of Northern Ireland's keenest football fans were left angry after Uefa rejected their applications to attend matches at Euro 2016. It soon became apparent that a scheme set up to reward loyalty had failed to ensure that the most committed supporters received tickets first - particularly for the opening game.

The Irish Football Association contacted Uefa and secured almost 1,000 extra tickets for the match. The IFA was also quick to blame Uefa for any problems.

But there are a number of inconsistencies in both organisations' accounts of what happened. How could it go so wrong?

Applying was a long, confusing process for members of the Green and White Army, involving several online forms and questionnaires.

Uefa started accepting full applications in December, offering four categories of tickets ranked by price, with an option to move between these categories if the first choice was oversubscribed.

Fans could also apply to 'Follow My Team', potentially all the way to the final. This was the most expensive option, with credit cards charged initially for the maximum number of possible games.

The IFA now says that supporters who opted for Follow My Team got priority from Uefa. However, the organisation previously advised fans there was "no competitive advantage" in taking this option. In addition, many applicants who agreed to accept more expensive tickets, if their first choice was in high demand, found that the mechanism hadn't worked, even though they supposedly had high priority.

Northern Ireland's match against Poland apparently caused such a headache because there was high demand for category C tickets, the second cheapest. Patrick Nelson, the IFA's CEO, assured supporters that Uefa had implemented the supporters' priority scheme across this category, but some fans missed out despite having more loyalty points than successful applicants who applied for the same ticket option.

Blatantly there were serious problems with the IFA's priority scheme and its implementation by Uefa. Both the English and Welsh FAs operated schemes on similar principles, but they sifted the data themselves and sent lists of successful fans to the organisers.

Meanwhile, the IFA provided Uefa with information from a hastily devised, confusing loyalty programme that involved supporters self-declaring their previous attendance at games.

Even before that, anyone who had bought tickets for friends and family during the qualifying matches was asked to provide personal details for these people so they could be contacted. Northern Ireland supporters have flagged up issues around record-keeping at the IFA and its potential impact on ticketing for many years. Concerns were raised over 10 years ago when high demand was anticipated for the 2005 World Cup qualifier with England. Following that match an official supporters' scheme was introduced, featuring loyalty caps for attendance at matches, but it was patchily maintained and lasted only briefly.

It's not yet entirely clear where the blame lies for the Euro 2016 ticket fiasco. At the very least it seems there have been issues with miscommunication between Uefa and the IFA, as well as misunderstandings about the application process. Some of the information supporters received was misleading or plain wrong.

To its credit, the IFA acted quickly when it discovered some of Northern Ireland's most dedicated followers had missed out.

In theory, 1,000 extra places for the Poland match should remedy particularly glaring cases, but there are still likely to be regular fans who miss out. At the very least they deserve a clearer explanation of what went wrong, so that similar mistakes can be avoided in future.

Belfast Telegraph

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