Northern Ireland Euro 2016 ticket fiasco: Uefa and IFA leave fans with bitter taste once again
It was supposed to be smooth sailing. Surely nothing would go wrong this time as hundreds of Northern Ireland fans woke up yesterday morning thinking they would be able to buy Euro 2016 tickets after missing out last month due to a blunder by the football authorities.
February's anger amongst hundreds of die-hard Northern Ireland supporters had been replaced by hope that things would work out in the end and those on the priority list for tickets would finally get them.
Initially the original problem was largely caused by Uefa when around 1,000 Northern Ireland supporters, on the IFA's priority list, missed out on tickets for the Euro 2016 opener versus Poland in Nice on June 12.
After talks between the Irish FA and Uefa, following endless complaints from disgruntled fans, the former did well to secure an extra 1,276 tickets for the Poland game. An additional 505 priority tickets for Northern Ireland's match with Ukraine (June 16) and an extra 93 priority tickets against Germany (June 21) were also made available to fans.
On Tuesday night the IFA sent an email to supporters on the priority list. It read: "We expect that Uefa will open their Second Chance Portal for Northern Ireland fans tomorrow (Wednesday) afternoon.
"You are on the priority list for this portal. Uefa will email you directly with instructions on how to purchase tickets that you are eligible for. Tickets will be available on a first-come first-served basis. We advise that once you receive the email, you redeem any tickets you wish to purchase inside the first 48 hours as after this time Uefa will open tickets to the next group of fans."
Fair enough... some welcome reassurance for fans.
What happened, however, was different. The portal opened in the morning before Northern Ireland fans received any notification from Uefa.
Many supporters learned that the system was in place to purchase tickets through social media rather than from European football's governing body.
When others heard later, some from Uefa's email which arrived late in the morning, the only tickets available to them were at the highest price or for restricted views. Everyone was asked to pay a delivery charge for the tickets, including those who had paid one before.
Hundreds of fans got the tickets they wanted yesterday, with some praising the IFA. Hundreds of others, though, were fuming with how the matter had been handled. Not surprisingly, as had been the case with the first tickets fiasco, the Belfast Telegraph was inundated with questions from frustrated supporters. We put the key points to the IFA.
Question: Didn't the IFA say in their email to fans that the ticket portal would open in the afternoon?
IFA: In the IFA's email to priority fans yesterday we said we expected the portal to be open this afternoon. Uefa had expected it to open this afternoon but it was actually ready to go early and it opened this morning.
(Why though did the football authorities suggest one thing and then do something else, effectively changing the timing the portal was opened?)
Q: Fans say Uefa emailed them AFTER the portal was open?
IFA: Uefa have to make tickets available for purchase online before emailing people to tell them they are available. Uefa emailed everyone on the Second Chance list as the portal was opening.
(There is evidence from fans that they received confirmation emails from Uefa yesterday morning after they had purchased tickets BEFORE the Uefa email about the portal opening came through).
Q: Fans are annoyed at having to pay the highest price for tickets because by the time they logged in, cheaper tickets had gone. Why was that?
IFA: Tickets for the Poland game were available across all price bands. Tickets for the Ukraine and Germany games did not cover the full price band spectrum. The Irish FA could not control the number of seats available within each price band. As was pointed out to the DCAL Committee at Stormont last week, this meant some fans will be paying more for tickets compared to their original application and some will be paying less.
Q: And the delivery charge?
IFA: The €15 delivery charge for tickets is per application and is standard for anyone outside France.
(So, no refund then... that seems unfair on those fans who have already paid a delivery charge).
Supporters are wondering how Uefa and the IFA failed to make it a smooth process second time around regarding the extra Euro tickets when they had been working on it for weeks after the initial problems.
There's no doubt, the issue has left a sour taste with many Northern Ireland fans.