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'Passport to Football'
About a month before England's European Championship qualifying game away to Croatia in Zagreb, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued an updated piece of advice for England Fans without tickets hoping to travel to watch the team in Croatia - DON'T! Blame it on the fact that England have one of the best away followings in the world that demand would be so high. Out of the Official England Fans Group of twenty five members, over eight-thousand applied for tickets for one of the most anticipated away games in recent years. Not only was this a new country for England to play in, but Croatia were seen as our biggest rivals in the group and coupled with the prospect of cheap beer and some more than average local sights demand was always going to be high through the only 'official' source of away tickets.
As soon as Zagreb was confirmed as the destination, fans started booking travel through any route possible. The most popular routes direct to Zagreb, via Ljubljana in Slovenia or Grazin Austria filled up quickly as fans had to commit to flights and hotels in the hope of getting a ticket once a ballot was completed. Only 3,688 tickets were eventually allocated to the England fans. Do the maths and you can see that 4,300 other fans would be potentially traveling and hoping to get a ticket somehow, somewhere in the city. Of course anyone who travels without a ticket is someone looking for a fight right? Well yes according to our unbiased media and government departments, whose reaction was to issue the stark advice note. The authorities don't factor in that fans can't get refunds on their flights and hotels in most cases, and faced with a slim chance of getting a ticket against no chance by not traveling, funnily enough they go. After all, how many of the media actually travel with the fans instead of ligging on their expense accounts (tip for the tabloid press reporters who want to stay undercover, by approaching a group of England Fans drinking in a bar and saying “Alright lads, anyone been fighting?” you're blowing your cover).
I was lucky enough to be one of the 3,688 in securing a ticket, but had no luck on actually finding a reasonably priced flight or hotel so was forced into taking the day-trip option. The usual security warnings were given to us before we traveled by the Football Association. No Guns, no throwing objects onto the pitch (so what should we do when a ball goes into the crowd? Throw it back and break the law or keep it and get accused of theft?), no drugs and of course, no singing any songs likely in incite hatred. They also took the unusual step of announcing that English Police officers would be present at the stadium to work with their Croatian counterparts in an advisory capacity.
The good thing about the day trips is that they are normally well organised in terms of transportation, they escort you from point A to B and give you some confidence that if you get stuck in the stadium, your plane is not going to leave without you. The downside is that you get allocated such crappy flight times meaning your day trip is normally over twenty-four hours long AND the local aviation authority find it funny to schedule all return flights at the same time, meaning absolute chaos as thousands of fans try to pass through security at a foreign airport at the same time as I had already experienced in Macedonia and Palermo in the past few weeks already.'