English soccer’s governing body says it more than doubled Poland fans’ ticket allocation for tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier to prevent them buying seats in home sections of the London stadium.
Poland’s number of tickets at Wembley was increased to 18,000 from 8,000 because of high demand, the Football Association said. England needs a victory from its final group match to guarantee a place in Brazil next year, while Poland cannot now qualify.
“With high demand for tickets from the large Polish community in England, the F.A. took the decision, based on safety grounds,” F.A. spokesman Scott Field said in an e-mailed statement.
At 532,000, the Polish community is the second-largest overseas-born community in the U.K., according to the Office of National Statistics.
England coach Roy Hodgson said the decision to boost the number of tickets for away fans could “lift” Poland but that his players would not be fazed.
“Our players are used to playing in games where there is support for the opponents,” he said at a televised news conference. “70,000 fans versus 20,000 is a good margin.”
Former Scotland striker Alan Brazil had criticized the increase in the Polish ticket allocation as potentially helping England’s opponents in a vital game.
“Have they taken into consideration what the players might feel?” Brazil said on U.K. radio station Talksport today. “Poland can’t qualify so why are we giving this kind of boost?”
England defender Leighton Baines dismissed such concerns.
“If away fans add to the atmosphere the home fans produce, it just adds to the occasion,” he told reporters yesterday. “You’d rather play in a stadium with a good atmosphere, rather than it be a half-empty stadium.”
Tomorrow’s game has evoked memories of a 1973 match when England drew 1-1 with Poland at Wembley and failed to reach the following year’s World Cup. Poland went on to finish third at the tournament.
If England doesn’t win tomorrow, it’s likely to face a playoff round to reach the World Cup. Ukraine, which plays San Marino, would probably finish top of the group and qualify automatically.