England set to come to Town

AND SO the worst-kept secret in Suffolk is out. Today at 11am the FA will confirm what has been rumoured for 16 months – that Portman Road will host a full international in August, writes Steve Mellen.

AND SO the worst-kept secret in Suffolk is out. Today at 11am the FA will confirm what has been rumoured for 16 months – that Portman Road will host a full international in August, writes Steve Mellen.

On Wednesday 20th Sven-Goran Eriksson's men will take on Croatia at Ipswich Town's redeveloped stadium, although how many tickets will find their way into the hands of local supporters is out of the club's hands.

The FA will take over all aspects of the matchday experience, including ticketing and hospitality. Ipswich will be the hosts, but with very little involvement.

And even though the story was first leaked over a year ago, club officials have had to keep tight-lipped in the face of increasing media speculation and questioning over the fixture, as the FA set today as the moment for any official statement.


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John Motson mentioned it in his commentary of the England v Slovakia match last week, as did Sky commentator Martin Tyler during an Under-21 match.

Many local policemen and women also had their leave cancelled around that date. It seems everyone knew but nobody was allowed to say.

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Despite this, hosting a full international is a great feather in the cap of Ipswich. Even though the club has enjoyed a long association with the national team – including supplying its two most successful managers in Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey – it has only ever hosted Under-23, Under-21 and Under-19 matches.

But since Wembley was knocked down to prepare for the new national stadium, England have gone on the road, playing at grounds including Derby, Newcastle, Sunderland, Liverpool, Manchester United and Middlesbrough. Now it's Portman Road's turn.

Ipswich will be the centre of national attention for an evening, and thousands of football supporters from across the country will descend on Suffolk's county town.

And with the Division One club still looking to cut costs after exiting administration, their share of gate receipts and TV money will be very welcome.

For Town fans lucky enough to get tickets in the 30,250-capacity ground, it's a chance to see some world-class players grace the pitch in the famous white shirt of England – players like Michael Owen, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard.

The opposition are a fairly recent addition to world football following the break-up of Yugoslavia, but finished third at the World Cup in France 1998 and are a growing force on the international scene.

And after so many press conferences to announce money problems, player sales and pleas for support, Town chairman David Sheepshanks will be relieved to have some good news to tell in the media suite at Portman Road today.

n Although no ticket details have been announced for the Croatia game, the FA is almost certain to sell tickets through Ticketmaster, its usual outlet.

Fans can log onto www.ticketmaster.co.uk or call 0870 4000 700. The FA's own ticket information line is 0207 7454776, website: wwww.the-fa.org

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