Thursday, 5 February 2009

"Tickets please..."

Tickets to the hottest match in town - the Milan derby - are hard to get for fans and our man in Italy Kris Voakes joined the long queue...

Fledgling freelance journalists can run into many a problem in their early days. This columnist's main sticking point has proved to be the acquiring of match tickets.

See, clubs will still have a good think about supplying you with access to press conferences, player interviews and the like, but it's the all-important match tickets which they just can't help you with. This, combined with the NUJ's reluctance to give out membership cards to people who haven't yet received proof of payment for journalism-related work, leaves the wannabe stuck in a Catch 22 situation.

And so it came to pass that I was stood outside my local branch of the Banca Populare di Milano at 8:20am this morning (Thursday) in a queue for tickets to the Milan derby at San Siro on Sunday week. Forget the anguish you see on a football fan's face as his or her team trail by a goal with five minutes left, it is in this very queue that real emotion can be found.

Today was the day that tickets went on general sale to Inter fans for this season's second derby, their home fixture of the two. Tickets in Italy are sold in banks rather than club outlets. Much like in Britain though, there is a pecking order applied, allowing members first refusal on tickets before the general public join the free-for-all. For your run-of-the-mill Serie A game, this isn't much of a problem as it is rare that tickets can't be bought on the day of the game from outside the ground. There have been very few sell-outs in the league this season. But derby day is different.

The bank opened at 8:30am and as a queue of around 30 people waited, me about half-way down it, I started to do the maths... over 120 branches of BPM in Milan, average 30-40 people, buying an average 2-3 tickets each... It was me against about 8,000 others, so my quick mental arithmetic told me. I say quick, but I actually worked it out over a few minutes as we all waited for the computer system to kick back into action.

For at the most crucial of times (8:33am on derby general sale day) all of BPM’s computers had decided to crash. Word went down the queue... "Bloccato".... "Bloccato".... "Bloccato." By 8:45am almost everybody in the queue had been on the phone to their friends or loved ones. Enquiries were made of the female clerk as to availability. She tells the increasingly worried customers that there are only tickets remaining for the third tier or in the red section of the first tier. Everybody is now back on the phone "Terzo anello o primo rosso solo". By 9am, most of them had been called back: "Any luck?"

9:10... some have become too fatigued to continue, perhaps having reached their deadline with their less-than-understanding boss, who wants them at work regardless of their need to be at San Siro on the day, they hope, Inter beat Milan. They leave, looking despondent, wishing "In Bocca al Lupo" to those they've left behind. "Crepi il Lupo!"

9:15... Lady Luck finally starts to show signs of life. The young man at the front of the queue finally has a smile on his face as the female clerk fires the printer into action and passes him three tickets for the biggest game of the season.

9:32... I'm eighth in the queue by now, anticipation and panic building up inside me, I text Rich, an English teacher I met in the pub in my first week in town, for whom I'm hoping to buy a second ticket. I ask him for his passport number if he has it.... I want to cover all angles, just in case there's a slight delay which means we don't get the tickets. The line between success and failure is a very thin one.

9:45... The system slows down again. The clerk looks worried. "Terzo blu o primo rosso solo"... Tickets are now going at a rapid rate. More phone calls are made by way of an update.

9:55... I'm fourth in the queue. Finally, I get the feeling this is going to end well after all. There is a couple now being served and two young guys behind them, one is buying two tickets, the other three. Surely there are more than seven tickets left? 'It's all going to be fine', I tell myself, momentarily forgetting the other 120 branches in town.

9:56... The clerk is now thrashing away at the keyboard, attempting to provoke any response which would result in the printer working it's magic on the blank tickets laid next to the computer. No luck. "Finito," she announces. "Esaurito."

The anguish on the faces of these football followers has now become dread... 'How do I tell my friends they're not going to the derby?' Conversations are had between fans desperately trying to stay positive and those who realise their true fate. "You could try the Milan section." "General sale is next Wednesday, they'll be sold out by then."

And with that they head slowly for the door and the rainy world outside, back on their phones to deliver the bad news. There will be over 80,000 lucky people inside the San Siro on Sunday 15th as one of the world's biggest football matches takes place. This morning, I got to meet some of those who won't be amongst them. And I don't envy them one bit.


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