Tuesday 6 December 2016

Buying or selling? Precious pieces of power are not legal tender but they have currency

Published 28/08/2016 | 17:00

Conal Gallagher, from Ballyshannon, at the ticket office before the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay between Tyrone and Cavan at St Tiemach's Park in Clones, Co Monaghan. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Conal Gallagher, from Ballyshannon, at the ticket office before the Ulster GAA Football Senior Championship Semi-Final Replay between Tyrone and Cavan at St Tiemach's Park in Clones, Co Monaghan. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Some years ago, a man was left with an extra ticket on All-Ireland football final day after the person he had promised it to didn't show up to collect it. Standing outside Croke Park, and as one of those GAA men who likes to go to the minor match too, he was anxious to get inside.

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Offloading the ticket shouldn't be a problem, he thought. He was wrong.

Each prospective buyer on Jones' Road became reluctant, and then downright suspicious when they learned the ticket was being sold at its face value. A precious ticket for the Hogan Stand being sold outside the stadium at face value on match day? It must be a fake. Or a try-on.

No, pleaded the seller, all I want for it is what I paid for it. But he was speaking in a foreign tongue. Because we have been conditioned to expect that tickets don't just fall out of the sky and into our laps. Or that an honest man can be in possession of a golden ticket, looking only for what he paid for it.

Eventually, a priest bought the ticket. Reluctantly. As a gesture he gave the man's young son a fiver, possibly as a reward for his honesty, or maybe he just felt that there was something unclean about having just paid face value for the ticket, that in some way he had conned the seller. The fiver was returned.

Tickets may not be legal tender, but in this country they are currency. And tickets to major sporting events - at home and abroad - are particularly prized. Sometimes they can be pure gold. And with a golden ticket it's a golden day.

There are no laws in Ireland to stop someone buying a ticket and selling it on to someone else for whatever price that person is willing to pay for it. And perhaps that's as it should be. That is the free market, capitalism at its best. Everything has a price and if you are willing to pay that price then good luck to you.

It's hard not to disagree with Michael McDowell's comments last week. "If you have a ticket for the All-Ireland and you paid €100 for it, and I really want it badly and pay you €1,000 for it, are you committing a crime? Am I committing a crime?

"The idea that somebody should be called before the criminal courts to answer for buying it at above its value is a bit contrived as far as I am concerned."

But of course the real value of highly-prized tickets goes way beyond what someone might be willing to pay for them. Their real value lies in what someone might be willing to do for them. And it is this that gives their holders the real power.

Tickets have been used to get speeding fines quashed.

They have been used to obtain planning permission.

They have been used to secure grants.

They have been used to buy votes.

They have been used to buy silence.

In fact, they have been used in all sorts of questionable ways.

And of course they have also been used to make money in all sorts of ways too - ways which go well beyond what we might understand as ticket touting.

Tickets can be used to curry favour, to wield influence. They can be used as an instrument of power, indeed they are an instrument of power.

Ours is a culture which appears to have always willingly accepted that this is the way it is. It seems we're fine with it.

A man who could scam a ticket for a big match was viewed by his peers as some kind of Robin Hood figure, a hero of the little people, taking from the rich and giving to the poor, even if he was more often than not taking from the little people.

And a man who had a ticket for the big match . . . well he was a big man indeed.

So yes, there is no law against ticket touting in Ireland, but many laws have most certainly been broken over the years by people buying or selling tickets. Grandpa Joe and Charlie had it spot on, with a golden ticket it's a golden day.

'Cause I've got a golden ticket

I've got a golden chance to make my way

And with a golden ticket it's a golden day

- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

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