The ticket tout gangs making a fortune from England fans at Euro 2024 | Football | Sport

Fans watching a screening of the Euros.

UEFA does not want fans buying second-hand tickets to games at inflated prices. (Image: Zac Goodwin)

Euro 2024 organisers UEFA couldn’t have been more clear: it didn’t want fans buying second-hand tickets to games at inflated prices.

In a post on its website ahead of the tournament in Germany, the European body warned supporters that if they struck a deal with an “unauthorised third party” they risked being refused entry to the match.

To demonstrate how seriously it took the matter, UEFA said it had already cancelled several hundred tickets transferred in a manner that breached its terms.

That action was part of several anti-tout measures introduced by the governing body.

Every ticket was registered to a specific person’s ID card and could only be accessed using the official app.

The QR code that provided entry to the stadium only appeared in the application three hours before kick-off and could not be screenshotted. But, despite the best efforts of the organisers, I found touting was as alive and well as ever at Euro 2024. If anything, it appears the efforts by UEFA have pushed out the less sophisticated operators and handed the market to professional syndicates and gangs.

On my first day in Gelsenkirchen before the England vs Serbia game I encountered a tout. He was hunched by the train station and, as I passed, called out to say he had a match ticket going for €250.

England fans make their way to the stadium

England fans make their way to the stadium. (Image: Rowan Griffiths)

“How does it work?” I’d asked them. “We just transfer it to you” they explained, eyeing me with suspicion.

Later that day I met two men who’d also bought a second-hand ticket for an inflated price a different way.

Using a popular online ticket exchange the England fan had found a local with a pair of seats for the game. “And then some German geezer transferred them to my name,” he told me.

But those were amateur outfits compared to the operation I witnessed at the England vs Denmark game.

Unlike the previous contest where the English supporters outnumbered Serbs by at least eight to one, the number of fans travelling from Scandinavia made the crowd a near-even split.

Having two large fan bases in Germany attending the game had pushed demand to levels that were very profitable for touts.
Their teams of workers who approached supporters disembarking from trams and buses around Frankfurt’s Waldstadion only ever claimed they were buying tickets. They carried signs that ranged from marker pen scrawls on cardboard to fully laminated printouts on lanyards.

Their accents, however, were the obvious giveaway they had not travelled to the game because of a love for either side.

There were around 10 to 15 men from Paris, the majority of whom were Moroccan. They each pretended to be separate individuals, but after spending several hours with them I realised they worked together in some type of syndicate.

Harry Kane of England at Euros

Harry Kane of England gestures during the EURO 2024 match between England and Slovenia. (Image: Sebastian El-Saqqa)

“Ca va?” they’d say to each other with a subtle shake of hands as they crossed paths on the way to another busy entrance.

I struck up a conversation with one of the group and could tell he was trying to size me up. He continued to deny he was selling tickets, but then occasionally hinted he was.

His obvious disconnection to the game was clear to most of those passing in replica shirts of England and Denmark and so most fans cut him short shrift.

“You want tickets,” a large Danish man wearing all red said with a pause. “We all need them.”

“Hmmm where were you for Bosnia at home?” an English fan called in reply to his asking for tickets.

However, after a while he was approached by a polite German couple saying they had a spare.

They clearly did not believe he was a tout. I could see that from their looks of compassion which suggested they thought his story about wanting to attend the game with friends was true.

“Okay bro, see you later,” he called back. “I’m going in” he suddenly called as he walked off with the couple.

As the Frenchman disappeared I wondered; had I got it wrong? Maybe his intentions were honest after all.

Those concerns evaporated when I saw him 10 minutes later asking more people for tickets. He claimed to have paid the couple €600 but I knew that was a lie. I heard them tell him it was in the €400 category. It wasn’t their fault they sold to him, they were manipulated and their kindness exploited.

England fans gather ahead of a Euro 2024 match.

England fans ahead of their second game in the Euro’s 2024. (Image: Rowan Griffiths)

Eventually, he admitted outright he was selling tickets. “But they are out of your budget,” he added.

I offered to pay but he was reluctant. It became clear he was suspicious of me and didn’t want to be caught actually selling a ticket for an inflated price.

What was interesting about the racket he and his friends were operating was that they already had buyers for the tickets they were acquiring.

I saw several innocent parties give up their tickets to touts and not a single sale, this was despite many people approaching them seeking to buy.

The tickets were being sold, just not to buyers in the immediate vicinity of the tout.

Part of this may have also been to enable a degree of separation and make the touts harder to track.

It was pretty clear from the outset that there was a hierarchy within the syndicate that provided a shield for the more senior men.

Shabbily dressed men with West African accents were predominantly the ones who worked the crowd calling out to buy tickets with badly drawn signs. The Parisian Moroccan contingent wore designer tracksuits and walked from exit to exit constantly on their phones.

Their bosses stood on the fringes only ever heading down to their associates to grab a phone or exchange a quiet word.

“The Moroccan mafia isn’t selling for less than £700,” a tall American who claimed to be dabbling in touting explained to me. “I wanted to go in, but I’m not paying that.”

Quite how much it was possible to trust anyone in this murky world was anyone’s guess. But I was able to confirm the price of a ticket for the Denmark game was an astonishing seven times their value even right before kick-off when prices naturally fall.

England fans gather in Cologne

England fans gather in Cologne ahead of their final group game against Slovenia at Euro 2024 (Image: Rowan Griffiths)

In Frankfurt the Moroccan gang’s monopoly on the second-hand market had one exception: a trio of Scousers.

Led by an older heavy-set man in his 50s, their gravelly voices and cheeky smiles were a lot more aligned with the stereotypical image of the British tout.

Although when asked they pleaded the same case as their French-Moroccan counterparts. “I’m not selling,” the boss said. “Just trying to get tickets for me and a couple of the lads.”

I discovered that wasn’t true several days later as I walked out of the main station in Cologne. It was the day of the England vs Slovenia game and there was a Mancunian selling tickets.

“Let me get the guy with them,” he told me after I expressed an interest and, sure enough, the duo who appeared were the burly Scouser from Frankfurt and one of his lads.

They sat me down and explained what I needed to do to buy a ticket for €225 after showing me their ticket for sale.

Once I’d registered in the UEFA ticketing app with my email they simply transferred it across from the account their ticket was deposited in.

How they were managing those accounts in a manner that avoided detection by UEFA I was not able to figure out.

But clearly they were making good money. I learned from a group of four the touts had offered to buy their spare tickets for just €30.

I think it’s difficult to criticise the governing body too harshly given all the measures it’s put in place to limit the black market profiteering from its events.

But, as is so often the case with areas where money can be made, the most sophisticated and organised operators survive and prosper.

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