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Why will Puskas Arena be almost half full for England’s Nations League game with Hungary?

| 01.06.2022

Hungary v England preview: The issues

England open their Nations League campaign with a trip to Hungary on Saturday evening in a match scheduled to take place behind closed doors – although there are now expected to be around 30,000 in attendance.

Sanctions imposed on the Hungarian Football Federation for the recent behaviour of their supporters meant they were prevented from selling tickets for the clash at the Puskas Arena.

So how have they been able to almost half-fill the 67,000-seater venue? Here, we examine the issues.

Why were the sanctions handed down?

The Puskas Arena was one of the venues selected to host matches during Euro 2020, staging two of Hungary’s group-stage matches as well as the 2-2 Group F draw between France and Portugal and the Czech Republic’s round-of-16 victory over Holland.

Hungary fans v England, Budapest

During those games, supporters displayed homophobic banners and aimed racist abuse at players, leading to UEFA charges.

Hungary were subsequently ordered to play their next three UEFA-organised fixtures behind closed doors, with the third match ban suspended for two years.

Is this the only time Hungary have been charged?

Sadly not.

The HFF was hit with a two-match stadium ban by FIFA last year after England players were racially abused during a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win in Budapest.

Raheem Sterling, Hungary v England

The game was played in front of a full stadium despite taking place after UEFA’s sanctions had been dished out – with the bans only applicable to matches under the jurisdiction of the relevant governing body.

A fine of over £150,000 was issued following a FIFA investigation, with the second match of the stadium ban suspended for two years.

So, who is allowed to attend behind-closed-doors fixtures?

UEFA’s rules for those who can attend a match being played behind closed doors is covered in article 73 of its disciplinary regulations.

There are capped numbers allowed for VIP guests (20 per association), 55 people per team delegation – including the players – journalists and photographers, police and security staff, stadium staff and UEFA representatives.

Surely that number does not total 30,000?

Not even close.

The number is vastly inflated by the fact children up to the age of 14 from schools and football academies can apply for free tickets for fixtures played behind closed doors.

There is no limit on the number of tickets that can be issued under the scheme and one accompanying adult is admitted per every 10 children.

The groups are organised by schools in the local area and the HFF has had more than 30,000 registrations ahead of Saturday’s match.

Have England played behind closed doors before?

The coronavirus pandemic meant that plenty of Three Lions fixtures over the past two years have been played in closed, or partially closed stadiums.

Jordan Henderson, Mateo Kovacic, Croatia v England 2018

Before that, Gareth Southgate’s side were involved in a goalless Nations League draw with Croatia in Rijeka.

The game, played in October 2018, was played behind closed doors as part of a UEFA punishment handed to the hosts after a swastika was marked on the pitch ahead of a Euro 2016 qualifying fixture against Italy.

England have been hit with a similar punishment, have they not?

Yes.

A UEFA investigation into the behaviour of England fans before and during their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy last summer resulted in a stadium ban. A two-match ban – the second of which is suspended for two years – as well as a
£84,560 fine was the punishment.

England fans, Wembley, Euro 2020 final

Again, England were able to host a full stadium for their FIFA-organised World Cup qualifiers at Wembley.

But their first home game of the Nations League, coincidentally against Italy, will take place behind closed doors with the fixture taking place at Molineux.

It is understood there is expected to be an attendance of between 2,000-3,000 at the home of Wolves as the Football Association welcomed applications from England Football-accredited Under-14 clubs within a 50-mile radius of the stadium.

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Author

Warren Barner