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UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

My colleague has made a very good point, and I apologise profusely because some of the female players play for Glasgow City and often train in my constituency. I thank Annabelle Ewing for allowing me to put on record the magnificent record of the Scottish women football players.

Only today, Glasgow was named European capital of sport for 2023, which is the first time that any city has won the coveted title twice. I therefore also congratulate all who were involved in that bid.

As members may recall, last year, I led a debate in Parliament on the save the Hampden roar campaign. Despite what I know were difficult negotiations, I am pleased that the SFA has since committed its long-term future to the stadium. Hampden has been an integral part of our day-to-day life in Scotland since its construction in 1903 and, as the sports journalist Bob Brown once said, it stands

“foursquare with Bannockburn in the Scottish psyche.”

To be fair, unlike Bannockburn, Hampden has had its fair share of glorious defeats to go alongside our stirring victories.

During my members’ business debate, I recalled that my first memory of Hampden was of Celtic playing Dunfermline in the 61—I clarify that I mean 1961, in case anyone thinks it was 1861—Scottish cup final first leg, which was attended by more than 113,000 people. I was also there for the Celtic v Leeds match in 1970, and for the Scotland match against Czechoslovakia in 1973, which were attended by around 130,000 and 100,000 people respectively. It is widely accepted that those spectator estimates were a bit on the low side and, over the years, such incredible attendances have dropped considerably, primarily due to the requirement to have all-seated arenas. With Hampden now having a capacity of a little over 50,000, tickets for the big events are now in far greater demand.

I therefore welcome the provisions of the UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill to prohibit ticket touting at the competition. Although the bill covers four areas—including street trading, advertising and enforcement—I will focus the rest of my speech on ticket touting.

Football is supposed to be—and once truly was—the working-class game. However, many would argue against giving the sport such a title now as ticket prices are already expensive enough. The most expensive tickets for the Euro 2020 finals matches at Hampden park cost £165, while the other two pricing categories are £111 and £45. I make it clear that the same three prices will also be charged for the group stage and last 16 games at Wembley.

The bill will establish an offence of selling a ticket above face value or with a view to making a profit. The offence will be committed whether the transaction takes place in person or electronically—that is most important. The offence will be punishable with a fine of up to £5,000.

There is an important point to mention in relation to the sales process for Euro 2020 tickets. Prior to buying the tickets, people initially applied for them during an application window. People were therefore able to apply for tickets for all games, or just individual matches, and tickets were then allocated through a lottery system. If a person was successful in the lottery, they had to take all the tickets offered to them. Many people hedged their bets and applied for several tickets for all four matches. Some of those people were successful and got them all, leaving them with ticket bills running to hundreds or even thousands of pounds. As a result of that system, some people sell tickets on, sometimes using secondary ticket sites.

As we have heard, the problem around ticket touts is very well known—the practice of buying and reselling tickets for profit has always existed, but the scale of touting has increased substantially in the digital era, and for a variety of reasons. Touts look to acquire or harvest tickets in several ways, for example by using multiple identities or credit cards. Others may use specialised software or bots to scoop up tickets the second that they are made available. Then there are websites that allow people to sell tickets to others—often at massively inflated prices.

I will give a current example. In November, Elton John will be playing at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow for two nights. The face value of tickets ranges from £51.10 to £170.25. On a well-known secondary ticketing site, individual tickets are currently for sale for between £227 and £1,358, depending on how good the seats are. Thankfully, at the moment, there are no football tickets for sale for matches at Hampden, Celtic park, Ibrox, or Firhill—amazingly—on that particular site. However, it is absolutely staggering that that is allowed.

The Euro 2020 championships are for the football fan to enjoy, not for the ticket tout to make money by ripping them off. As the constituency MSP for the Hampden area, I sincerely hope that the residents and businesses around Kings Park and Mount Florida will benefit from Glasgow’s hosting of some of the tournament—as they have benefited from tournaments in the past.

Euro 2020 will be one of the decade’s defining sporting tournaments—whether economically or culturally—and it will be exciting to be a part of it. The UEFA European Championship (Scotland) Bill will allow us to ensure that as many people as possible can get to the four Euro 2020 matches at Hampden, and without overpaying touts who are attempting to gain from reselling tickets. Of course, although the Scottish Government is making it easier for true fans to get to Euro 2020, the national side is not guaranteed to get there. With automatic qualification now impossible, we are reliant on Steve Clarke’s side being successful in the Euro 2020 play-offs in March next year. I am glad to hear that, just as the whole Parliament will support Scotland’s attempt to reach the tournament, the whole Parliament supports the bill.