Cricket chiefs plan alcohol free stadia for new event in bid to lure younger fans from migrant communities

Robert Mendick
England's Joe Root celebrates after the dismissal of West Indies' Sheldon Cottrell during the 2019 Cricket World Cup  - AFP

The BBC wondered out loud if all the empty seats at the cricket had been caused by the huge queue for the beer tent.

Others wondered if sponsors and others had simply not bothered showing up.

Whatever the reason, England’s easy win yesterday over the West Indies - which kick-started the home side’s hopes of winning the tournament for a first time - was marred by what might best be called a spectator malfunction.

Cricket fans watching on television complained they had been unable to buy tickets for yesterday’s game at the Hampshire Bowl in Southampton - despite the fact hundreds of seats were unoccupied.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), which runs the tournament, said it too was nonplussed.

A source insisted the game had been sold out but that for unknown reasons as many as 600 people who had bought tickets - at prices ranging from £55 to £195 - had not turned up.

The ICC said 16,391 tickets had been scanned at entrance for a stadium with a capacity of about 17,000. 

Many other ‘spectators’ - by the look of the queues for beer and other drinks - had spent much of the match not actually watching it. 

All of which was galling for a large number of England fans who could not buy tickets.

“I can only go on what my members are saying. And they are very concerned,” said Becky Fairlie-Clarke, the co-founder of the 4,000-strong Cricket Supporters Association.

“It does look like something is amiss. There has been lots of chatter about it. Some of our members applied for tickets, couldn’t get them and have now seen empty seats .”

On twitter, Paul McKenzie posted: “Empty seats at #ENGvWI game. I applied in 4 ballots for tickets for all England games. Rubbish from @ECB_cricket and @ICC.”

James Day wrote: “Shambles to see so many empty World Cup seats for a supposed sell out in the cricket #ENGvWI” while another fan on Twitter declared: “Cricket World cup at @TheAgeasBowl today according to the @cricketworldcup website was sold out today. Yet look here! EMPTY SEATS EVERYWHERE!” 

The BBC, which has radio broadcasting rights, also bemoaned the empty stands, posting a photograph of spectators in the grounds of the Hampshire Bowl with the caption: “One reason for empty seats is the length of the bar queue.” 

The ICC has said many of the games are sold out with 800,000 tickets purchased for a cricketing extravaganza that authorities hoped would kick start the game in this country.

But a previous match at the Hampshire Bowl between India and South Africa on June 5 also caused raised eyebrows.

India are the best supported team on the planet and its fans devoted.

Yet the game started to swatches of vacant seats, prompting Michael Vaughan, the former England captain and BBC commentator, to tell listeners: “Such a shame there are so many empty seats. They keep saying it’s sold out but where are the tickets?”

Tickets for that match ranged from £235 to £70.

One possibility is spectators with hospitality tickets chose to remain inside their corporate boxes - leaving designated seats empty.

Meanwhile between 300 and 500 tickets a match go to the Cricket World Cup’s ten main sponsors.

But the ICC is insistent that tickets not taken up by sponsors go back on general sale.

Another match in the tournament, the underdogs Afghanistan against Sri Lanka in Cardiff was billed as sold out but was barely half full with just 5,500 fans taking their seats.

The ICC said 8,500 tickets had bene sold with a further 3,000 distributed to schools to boost interest in cricket in Wales.

But although the Cardiff stadium can hold 11,500 spectators, it was only half full.

Many of the schools never sent their children while thousands of fans who had bought tickets never arrived.

An ICC source said it was baffling why there appeared so many empty seats at the England-West Indies match yesterday.

“We sold out and we have had people just not turn up,” said the source, “We don’t know why. Whenever there are empty seats we try to work it out. Here there is no other explanation than people who bought tickets just didn’t come through the turnstiles.”