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MONDAY 20  MAY 2024

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The Great Daily Express World Cup ticket debacle

By CHRIS GILL

Some of the more interesting stories don’t make the papers because they involve the papers. Here is one…


Take the 1998 World Cup, an opportunity to boost ailing circulations.

And so it was the Express launched one of its finest football competitions.

A ‘trip of a lifetime’ to Paris to watch the opening game between Brazil and Scotland.


From fading memory, around 20 people and their guests won this glorious adventure and there was no shortage of staff volunteers to make sure their dream day out didn’t end in a nightmare.


So myself and assistant sports editor Chris Baldock got the nod. The high up on the trip was meant to be deputy ed Chris Blackhurst but he dropped out rapido to be replaced by Amanda Platell who herself was replaced at the last minute by … Rosie Boycott’s hitherto unknown son in law. We did wonder why. It was a freebie to die for if you were a sports fan.


The day before the game there was a strange atmosphere on the editorial floor. Clandestine discussions all over the place … but as we know you can’t hide a secret in a newspaper office.


Up popped a wag from the news desk. ‘Eh, have yer heard? The company providing the 50 tickets for the big game has folded and taken the dosh with it.’


Ouch. That night Baldock and myself went home in trepidation, the new front line in what promised to be a total disaster.


By morning as we joined our deliriously happy punters on the Eurostar to Paris we were anything but.


Canapés and drink were being enjoyed as we hit the Chunnel but by the time we left the Tunnel sous la Manche panic was setting in among our small group. Still no tickets and our constant use of mobiles, coupled with increasingly deep frowns, wasn’t lost on the guests who were currently beguiled by a bloke sketching their cheery little faces.


Thirty minutes out of the capital we were given plan B.


Take them to their lunch as planned, tell them ‘sorry we’ve no tickets but we will take you to a bar with a big fuck-off telly to watch the game and pay you £500 each for your trouble.’


Baldock and I weren’t sure who was going to break this news, more concerned about the breaks that might need plastering in the nearest hospital afterwards.


Mercifully there was a ticket god and as we rolled into the Gare du Nord a phone trilled and someone had magicked up 50 tickets at a rumoured cost of £50k. More ouch! 


While the increasingly excited winners tucked into their nosebag the plan was to meet a ‘bloke’ at a hotel across from the station to seal a deal. We knew him when he walked through the door. English and if he wasn’t dodgy he looked it. 


The young secretary who was with us was to collect the tickets. We ushered her and said bloke into the ladies to do the handover while myself and Boycott’s son-in-law, who was actually a top — and imposing — bloke, stood outside politely stopping anyone else from entering. 


She emerged triumphant with tickets confident in their legitimacy and a call was made to pay the dosh.


Thank Christ for that. All we had to do now was tap dance around queries as to why their tickets were issued to the Slovenian FA, the FAs of Cyprus, Moldova or Malta. You get the picture.


Relief all round as we sent them on their way. Brows mopped, Baldock and I were approached by a guy who asked if we had tickets he’d give us £1,600 for the pair… we declined which was probably Chris’s biggest regret.


We jumped the rammed Metro to the Stade de France. It was so jammed he didn’t notice one of local scallies had dipped into his open jacket and relieved him of his prized ticket. He wasn’t  happy. An understatement.


I trundled off to watch the game while Chris vainly tried to explain to officials he’d been robbed of his recently acquired San Marino FA President’s match ticket. He ended up in a bar … oh the irony. 


The trip from hell was in the end  a qualified success. As we headed back towards Waterloo our winners had been mingling with some of the other passengers.


It transpired they were similar winners in a competition run by a TV breakfast show who had also been ripped off.


Aye, said one of our group, they said replacement tickets had been sourced but they had been nicked by those bastards from the Express … cue a rapid exit from Chris and myself.


FOOTNOTE: Brazil beat Scotland 2-1.


6 April 2024