Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland Euro 2016 tickets: Supporters were just right to kick up a fuss, says IFA

By Steven Beacom

Question: Some fans believe the Irish Football Association's current priority scheme was rushed through for Euro 2016 causing problems with the tickets. The IFA made an attempt to begin a loyalty 'caps' system several years ago - why was this abandoned and why was nothing put in its place in the event Northern Ireland qualified for a major championships?

Irish FA spokesperson: Back then what they did was they tried it, thought it was too big a job and stopped it. There was no major tournament on the horizon or prospect of qualifying, so they thought let's continue with what we are doing.

Q: Was that a mistake?

IFA: I can't talk for the IFA six years ago. I can only talk about what has happened in the IFA in the months following Euro 2016 qualification. When qualification became a reality we put a loyalty system in place that was good enough for these issues not to have come up this week.

Q: Are there plans for a new loyalty scheme in the future?

IFA: No, because this one works. There is no issue with our priority scheme. The issue seems to be how our scheme was applied. The IFA was informed on Tuesday by Uefa that the priority scheme was implemented for all three of Northern Ireland's games in France. Over the past 24 hours we have been contacted by a large number of supporters who were top priority fans who didn't get tickets. We have asked Uefa again to explain specifically how the priority was applied to Category 3 tickets and to show why so many of our fans missed out.

Q: In December, the IFA emailed a questionnaire to everyone who had bought a Northern Ireland ticket during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. This asked what matches they had attended, which would then make up their priority points total. Why did the IFA not know who had been at what games?

IFA: That is back to how tickets are booked. Lead bookers would buy for up to 50 or 60 people and we didn't know who they were. For us we had a 1980s system for a 2016 tournament and in those three months we needed to get things into shape and find out the names of all those who attended games so we would have information for the Euros. That's what we did.

Q: Has this problem come from the IFA telling fans to put an 'x' in the fans number section of the tickets application, whereas other Associations had individual numbers for all of their fans?

IFA: Some other Associations have membership numbers and Uefa wanted that included in the application process. Uefa told us our fans could put an X in the box because it wasn't relevant for us.

Q: The IFA advised Northern Ireland fans that there was no extra weighting given to 'Follow My Team' applications over the 'Single Tickets' option. This now appears not to be the case. Why?

IFA: We followed the information given to us by Uefa to the letter which was to explain to the supporters there was a risk involved in 'Follow My Team'. It was an all or nothing option. You either get all the way to the final with Northern Ireland if they get there but if there is a game which is oversubscribed you are getting nothing.

Uefa sent us an email to say there was risk in 'Follow My Team' and could you communicate this to your fans which we did using the language they asked us to.

We didn't say to anyone prescriptively to say definitely go for individual matches or 'Follow My Team'. We just followed the recommendation and language which Uefa shared with us. We issued Uefa's advice to our fans and let fans make the decision.

Q: Was there a class system here in terms of affordability whereby people who had more money to purchase more expensive tickets got those tickets but others who went for cheaper tickets didn't get them because they were oversubscribed?

IFA: No, because on the Uefa application system it showed you the demand indicators so if Category 3 was red and showed strong demand if you wanted a ticket you could go up one price range.

Q: On Tuesday you said in a statement that the priority system for Category 3 tickets for the match against Poland was implemented by UEFA. This is clearly incorrect, given that fans with 27 points did not get tickets yet many with much lower did. Would you like to reconsider your stance?

IFA: The statement was a joint statement between the IFA and Uefa. In terms of what we have since heard with people contacting us, it doesn't seem that the tickets were allocated correctly.

Q: It is being reported that the English FA knew what breakdown of tickets they had in each category, selected their successful applicants accordingly and sent the list back to UEFA. Why didn't the IFA do this?

IFA: We did that. Like the FA we sent our list saying how the tickets should be allocated. So we did see the list and said this is how they should be allocated. Effectively we ranked each application.

Q: Did no one at the IFA have a clue that lots of fans would go for the category C tickets?

IFA: We have no control over what the fans go for. The weekend before the portal closed we published information to say Uefa had told us there was good availability for Categories 1 and 2 in this game and Category 2 for that game. We made clear there was availability in the higher categories.

Q: How many points are needed for one of the extra 1,000 tickets for the Poland game?

IFA: Applications for fans with 18 points or more who have been unsuccessful will get the extra tickets based on the information we have had supplied by Uefa. 18 points equates to a fan who has renewed their block booking (ie was a block booker for the World Cup qualifiers and the Euro 2016 qualifiers) and has attended either two friendlies or an away competitive game. Anyone who has showed that level of commitment or above has to go to games in France based on our priority list. That has always been our objective.

Q: How will you ensure that those at the top of the priority list who missed out will get the extra tickets for Poland?

IFA: We have to work with Uefa on that. We are set to receive 930 tickets. It is is 893 top priority fans with 18 points or above who missed out who Uefa are providing tickets for. Our understanding is that Uefa will go to those 893 directly.

Q: Will the IFA lobby Uefa for more tickets or take a stand to ensure more?

IFA: Absolutely. Every day.

Q: There remains problems other than the Poland match. For example, some block bookers have missed out on tickets to all three games.

IFA: We are not aware of any issues to the same level. Uefa told us that our top ranked fans with 18 points got tickets for those games.

The only exceptions were a small number of credit cards that didn't work.

Q: Are the IFA worried about losing a number of core supporters on the back of this?

IFA: What we are worried about is not doing our job for the core supporters. People have been coming here for 20 and 30 years have missed out on tickets and that is why Patrick Nelson, our Chief Executive, went straight on to Uefa to say to fix this.

Q: Is the IFA at fault here?

IFA: No.

Q: Who is to blame for this mess then?

IFA: I'll let you decide. I am confident that our team left no stone unturned.

Q: Where did Uefa get the 930 extra tickets come from then?

IFA: You'll have to ask Uefa.

Q: Was there pre-conditions placed on the IFA by Uefa to get these extra tickets?

IFA: No, other than a shared statement in which they told us they used our priority schemne and we had to take that at face value. Our question to them is this doesn't tally with what we sent you, so how did that work out in particular for the game against Poland in Nice? We want to know how it happened.

Q: On Tuesday afternoon Patrick Nelson said "the early indications would suggest that the system has not been applied properly" yet that night he said nothing went wrong. How come?

IFA: He had reassurance with Uefa over the course of the day in those discussions when he got the extra tickets.

Q: Will all loyal supporters get tickets for the games now?

IFA: There are 50,000 appliactions and close to 30,000 tickets available now. Not everyone will get a ticket and that has always been the case. Our priority is to ensure as many people who have supported the team home and away are at the front of the queue for those tickets. We had a system in place which we thought would deliver that.

Q: If the supporters had not kicked up a fuss about this would the IFA have made calls to Uefa?

IFA: Absolutely and the supporters were right to kick up a fuss.

Q: Should heads roll at the IFA or Uefa over this?

I stand by the work our team have done in terms of ticketing.

Do the IFA regret putting fans through this and are they sorry for the trouble?

IFA: I don't think the IFA have put the fans through it. The IFA have worked hard, kept in touch with supporters to get a robust priority system in place. Where we are disappointed is that some of our loyal fans haven't got tickets and that is why we are working hard with Uefa to try and get as many tickets as possible for them.

Belfast Telegraph