Book extract March 7, 2010

Tout suite

You can't miss them if you're going to an Ashes Test in England: the bald, scarred, toothless gents who're dying to get you into the ground

When I first came to the UK I was shocked to see touts operating in the open outside cricket grounds. At The Oval they have guys outside the Oval tube station and then all the way up both sides of the ground until you get to within about 10 metres of the ticket office. Since The Oval is just a normal footpath area, it is hard enough to get by during game days, but add a few toothless, hairless, scarred touts and getting to the ground takes forever.

I couldn't believe how many there were. I counted 20 on my first trip there. Some standing only a couple of metres from the cops, and all saying different versions of the word "ticket" out the side of their mouths. It is a skill, to say it at such a pitch that you are sort of aware they said it, but not 100%. I assume there is some sort of tout school where they are taught this.

They are all also clones of each other. They all seem to be missing a tooth, have a scar on their forehead, be bald or balding, and they all have a busy manly walk about them. They are mostly white, although way more culturally diverse than the Npower girls (although no women). What amazed me is that it didn't seem to matter what race the person was, before they even said "ticket" you knew who they were. It is also safe to say that they all looked like Freddie Flintoff fans rather than Andrew Strauss fans. Few wing-commander types look like touts.

What shocked me the most, though, was that you could see them at all. I couldn't tell you what a tout looks like in Melbourne. I spend about 45 days a year at the MCG, but since the ground almost never completely sells out, and scalping is illegal in Australia, actually seeing touts is almost impossible.

The AFL grand final is probably the hardest sports event in Australia to get tickets for, and I saw one person selling them. He was hanging around near a tree in the car park, still doing the muttering, but he looked normal. He had hair, teeth, and no scar. He wouldn't fit in with the UK touts. If he did come over it would be much better for him, as touting sports tickets, contrary to popular opinion, is legal here as long as you aren't selling football or Olympic tickets. Although most local authorities require you to have a street trading license in order to buy and sell on the street.

Even the football tickets law isn't to stop touting, but to keep filthy scummy banned football hooligans out of the grounds. In a country where the average sporting stadium is small compared to the demand for tickets, it seems a weird rule. But the police still play a part. They might not arrest the touts, but when you want to talk money with a tout they take you off to a pre-specified area, and just for a second you expect someone to come from behind you and smack you on the head. Luckily I was at Edgbaston, and there weren't that many dodgy areas near the ground, or as many cops around to scare the touts, so I was taken behind a bus shelter.

I asked what the actual ticket price was, and he paused, looked me up and down, and then there was a quick silence. I said: "No, I'm a writer, just wanted to know how it all works." He then looked around, not sure what for; we were just two law-abiding people on our way to the cricket having a chat behind a bus shelter

He offered me a ticket at £110. I asked what the actual ticket price was, and he paused, looked me up and down, and then there was a quick silence. Fearing I had said the wrong thing, I said: "No, I'm a writer, just wanted to know how it all works." He then looked around, not sure what for; we were just two law-abiding people on our way to the cricket having a chat behind a bus shelter.

He was having none of it, though. He didn't want to chat to me. There were tickets to be sold at almost double their face value. I was a distraction. So I watched him for the next 20 minutes. He covered about 400 yards, from the gates at Edgbaston to a major road. He went up and back, loitered near cabs, walked close to every person walking towards the ground, turned his back on cops walking past, and nodded or exchanged words with other touts. They seemed to have a system of rotation going on, not that I could work it out.

After 20 minutes he finally got a bite. I was glad. I thought if I stared at him any longer he would think I was perving on him - and his general demeanour didn't give me the feeling he was a progressive thinker on gay rights. He took three guys behind a tree, and while I couldn't see exactly what was happening, it seemed like they were happy with the prices and purchased them all. Even if that was his only sale for the morning, it wasn't a bad 20 minutes. Then it got me thinking about what he makes in a day.

If he sells nine tickets a day at twice the ticketed price, assuming he had to pay £30 over face value for the ticket in the first place, he sells at a £30 profit. That is £270 for three hours' work. That is more than I make working at the cricket all day. And what risk does he have? He can't go to jail. It is an Ashes match, so he knows he is going to sell all the tickets, and if it gets tight towards the end of the day, he can sell them at cost.

They say that touting in the UK is part of organised crime, so you probably have to pass some initiation ceremony to get in. I assume that is when they give you the scar.

Extracted with permission from the award-nominated Ashes 09: When Freddie Became Jesus by Jarrod Kimber, an Australian writer based in London

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • safiuddin on March 8, 2010, 15:23 GMT

    after that christian ryan article on abdul qadir and footscray, this one is a surprising 'one more' that we got. thanks cricinfo and the writers.

  • David on March 8, 2010, 8:58 GMT

    Two pairs of Wimbledon ladies semi final and finals tickets fell into my lap when i was about 20 and living in London. It was a case of postmans error and curiosity killed the cat. I think they were valued at 30 poundss each at face value. I thought about going to Wimbledon to see these two rather grand days play for my own entertainment but i was skint and young and stupid, or was I?? I discovered at that time that the network of Bureau de Changes in London trade everything from Currency to gold, with tickets and and no doubt low grade import aswell. Think i made 700 pounds from the first paird i sold at the bureau de change in Covent Gdn. Second pair i though i could do better if i went to the gates of the event on the day they were for. I got fleeced by a man missing a tooth with a rollie hanginng out the side of his mouth and a scar on his forehead. On closer inspection as i trudged away with less than half what i'd got for the first pair, there were herds of them.

  • Lyle on March 8, 2010, 8:41 GMT

    Problem is Cricket Grounds in the U.K are far to small look in Aus they have M.C.G-100,000, SCG-50,000 , GABBA-44,000, ADELAIDE-35,000,PERTH-22,000. they should redevelop either the OVAL or EDGBASTON into a 50,000 plus ground.

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