Any spare tickets? Cricket's informal economy returns

·3-min read
Flying the flag: Spectators watch the fourth Test between England and India at the Oval (AFP/DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS)

The gates had only just opened at London's Oval cricket ground before the fourth day of the fourth Test between England and India on Sunday but a frenzied marketplace was already active.

While fans thronged pubs and cafes in the morning sunshine, an informal economy of ticket touts and unofficial merchandise sellers scrambled to ply their trade on the streets.

Touts buy as many tickets as they can get their hands on and resell them above face value to supporters desperate to watch their sporting heroes.

And with stadium capacity limits scrapped in England in July, touts could again feast on high takings after a pandemic-induced famine while matches were played behind closed doors.

"I've been doing this for 60 years. There was no work last year because of Covid," a bespectacled tout told AFP before continuing to prowl around the ground.

English cricket's governing body warns against purchasing tickets from touts as invalid duplicates and forgeries can leave fans stranded outside venues and out of pocket.

There are also fears that the astronomical cost of some tickets will price people out of cricket and make the game less accessible.

- 'Vermin' -

Groups of mostly middle-aged men loitered outside the two underground stations near the Oval in south London offering to buy or sell, rhythmically repeating their coded cry of "any spare tickets" to passers-by.

Many were dressed to blend into the shadows of sport's black market, wearing grey flat caps and large, dark coats while puffing on cigarettes.

Three India fans handed over wads of cash to a tout sporting an England cricket cap, while another tout showered a potential customer with obscenities after the transaction was abandoned.

"They're vermin. They just get in people's faces and I dislike them intensely," teacher Natalie Smith, 46, told AFP.

One tout, clutching a sheaf of tickets, even advertised his wares in an Indian language to appeal to his target market.

Another seller offered his tickets to three fans for £220 ($305, 257 euros) each, even though the cost of tickets started at £131 ($182, 153 euros) on official websites.

"I find them (touts) thoroughly irritating. They're a nuisance and can be intimidating," said England supporter Peter Norman, a 69-year-old pensioner.

"They belong to a time which I thought had passed with the advance of technology."

"It's particularly annoying when you know a lot of tickets have been bought up deliberately for resale to touts -- that is just irritating," he added.

- Suez crisis -

Street merchandise vendors hawked flags, shirts, hats and other items in alleys and driveways to fans looking for bargains.

Ahmed Shakir, 37, has supplemented his wages as a shop cashier in this way for 12 years and enjoyed the higher turnover achieved at the weekend.

"Most Indian people spend money. England (fans) don't buy much -- they only drink," he told AFP.

"When there is sports, we make something out of it. If there's no sports, then it is really hard."

A cricket-loving local resident known as 'Amazing Grace', 60, used the front drive of an acquaintance to sell face masks and hand sanitiser as well as merchandise and in turn used the profits to buy tickets.

But the knock-on impact of the blockage of the Suez Canal by a container ship in March is still leading to a shortage of supplies and has forced her to increase prices, with the stock mainly imported from India, China and Malaysia.

"The blockade is going to get worse. We don't have hundreds of stuff all the time, we don't gain by it," she said."The blockade is going to get worse. We don't have hundreds of stuff all the time, we don't gain by it," she said.

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