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England in Euro 2000 safety alert.

A campaign to have England's crunch Euro 2000 qualifying group clash with Germany switched to a bigger, safer stadium will gather pace this evening.

The June 17 showdown between the two old footballing enemies is due to take place in the Belgian town of Charleroi, at the 30,000 capacity Mambour Stadium - with only 4,800 tickets available to fans of each country.

But a consumer watchdog programme will tonight reveal that not only are the ticketing arrangements unfair, but that the ground is unsafe.

The Belgian Police Federation have already said they don't want the match to be staged in Charleroi, which was handed this second of the group games before the draw was made, and is also the venue for England's group decider against Romania three days later.

Now, presenter Adrian Goldberg, who first made his name in the media in the Midlands, is fronting a campaign to have the match switched to the larger capacity 50,000 King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels.

'It's an absurd choice for a game of this magnitude,' said Goldberg, especially in the light of evidence supplied to the programme by Jim Dickie, a widely-respected structural engineer, who has acted as safety consultant to several leading Premiership clubs.

Crucial to the argument is a third tier that has been erected on top of Charleroi's main stand which, claims Dickie, would not meet UK ground safety standards.

'If this tier was erected under UK legislation,' he said, 'then it would not be granted a safety certificate.

'If somebody offered me a ticket to watch the England game in this area of the stadium, I would decline the offer, as the levels of risk are unacceptably high.'

Added to that is the controversial ticket breakdown for the game, with 36 per cent on sale beforehand, some on the Internet to neutrals before knowing who the teams for that date were going to be.

With 14 per cent going to sponsors, eight per cent to the presence of the massed media, five per cent to corporate hospitality, and five per cent to UEFA themselves, that left just 16 per cent (4,800) to each individual nation.

Goldberg, a West Bromwich Albion season ticket holder, added: 'It seems to me typical of the way major football tournaments are organised, with the supporters' best interests not the first consideration.

'What seems to be important are pre-existing arrangements for sponsors, corporates and the tournament organisers themselves.

'Common sense says this is a huge game and, in the interests of genuine fans, moving the match to a bigger stadium has got to be the best option. There is no reason why matches can't be arranged around the draw. After all, at Wimbledon, matches are moved from Court 14 to Centre Court on a daily basis.

'It's only right and proper matches should be spread around, but they should be matched to the right venues.'

England open their campaign on June 12 across the Dutch border against Portugal in Eindhoven at the 27,000 Philips Stadion, before finishing off against Romania back at Charleroi - but neither has the pull of their first meeting with the Germans since the semi-final penalties defeat at Wembley in Euro 96.

The King Baudouin Stadium is actually on the site of the Heysel Stadium - scene of the tragedy in which 39 Italian fans lost their lives before the 1985 European Cup Final. But it has since been completely rebuilt at great expense into a state-of-the-art 50,000 all-seater stadium.

Mark Vlaeminck, a spokesman for the stadium, has confirmed that England and Germany - also drawn against Kevin Keegan's men in the 2002 World Cup qualifiers - could be accommodated. 'We are completely free on this date,' he said.

Weekend Watchdog will be shown on BBC1 tonight at 7pm.
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Title Annotation:Football
Author:Scott, Ged
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Mar 17, 2000
Words:630
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