JOHANNESBURG: Thousands of South Africans queued outside World Cup ticketing centres on Thursday as the first direct over-the-counter sales for the tournament opened ahead of kick-off in June.
Eleven ticketing centres opened at 0700 GMT in all nine host cities with half a million tickets up for grabs in the final sales phase as fans flocked to centres with flasks of coffee, chairs, pillows and blankets.
“We knew that the line was going to be long so we wanted to be here early to get our tickets,” said 18-year-old student Jevon Kannemeyer from Cape Town who got to the Cape Town ticket centre at 1645 GMT the previous day.
“I’m very excited because I’m a heavy soccer fanatic.”
Kannemeyer said he had not applied for tickets in previous sales phases, saying it was a long process which had not guaranteed matches.
“You can just pay over the counter with your cash and you are guaranteed to get the tickets right now,” he said as he waited near the front of the queue.
Ticket processing got off to a slow start in Cape Town with some fans fearing that desired matches could be sold out at other centres.
“That was one of the big reasons why we came so early. Hopefully, it’s slow everywhere else,” said 26-year-old Brad Conlin, taking a seat on the floor while waiting his turn at number 44, an hour after the centre opened.
Tickets were available at all 64 World Cup matches after FIFA attempted to boost sluggish ticket sales for the World Cup on Thursday by offering South African fans 300 seats for the final at Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium on July 11 over the counter.
“We’ve been here since last night, half past ten,” said Richard Mahwayo, 57, who held a hand-written cardboard sign saying: “Warning!!! Stay clear, we’ve got the ‘fever’. World Cup Fever.”
Thousands of fans lined up outside a shopping mall in Soweto — near where the opening game and the final will be held at Soccer City.
FIFA ticket center manager Richard Lalla said the final tickets would last “a few minutes,” but that was enough time for Malin Fisher, a 32-year-old trainee church minister, who spent more than 10,000 rands on six tickets, including two for football’s biggest game.
Fisher was first through the doors of the newly opened ticket center after queuing overnight and said it was “an incredible feeling” to have tickets.
“There are no words (to describe it). I’ve spent a couple of rands but it’s all worth it,” he said while holding his tickets up for photographers and TV cameras.
Fisher is one of many South Africans to be frustrated by FIFA’s initial online process, which did not work for local supporters who are not used to buying tickets for football games on the internet. Many are on low incomes and have no access to the internet and no credit cards.
FIFA and local organisers are under pressure to sell 500,000 match tickets for the monthlong tournament, which begins June 11.
“I think the original process had to be put in place so that everyone across the country and across the world could have a fair chance to get their hands on some tickets,” Lalla said. “Now that it is over the counter, I think our South African market is excited because this is what we are used to, this is our culture. It’s more for our market now and people will do really well with the tickets that are left.”