MPs yesterday defended the decision of a Commons football team to seek free tickets to watch England at the World Cup from food giant McDonald's.
McDonald's, an official tournament sponsor, said it had supplied 23 tickets to the team of MPs and researchers for the game against Paraguay in Frankfurt. But fans' groups criticised the move, complaining that thousands of ordinary fans had been unable to attend because of the lack of public tickets.
The £70 tickets command the best view of the Frankfurt pitch and are fetching up to £1,000 on the black market as supporters grab any chance to watch their heroes.
John Leech, Liberal Democrat MP for Manchester With-ington and a member of the parliamentary football club, said the team was travelling to Germany to play two charity matches, and individuals had paid all their own travel and accommodation expenses.
"I wasn't going to Germany to go to the football, I was going to play football," he said.
"We're giving money to charity as part of the trip and we play games to raise awareness of good causes, so it's very sad that it's turned around and and twisted to suggest we're just getting a freebie," he said.
He added: "I've been a season ticket holder for Manchester City for 22 years and I can safely say I'm a proper football fan. The tickets that have been provided for us would have been given out by McDonald's to somebody else, and I'm sure there's plenty of fans that would like to see the game as I would.
"I fully understand people's frustration, but it's not up to us who gets the tickets."
Asked about the controversy, Sports Minister Richard Caborn said: "It depends on what basis they have been invited."
He added: "It's not unique that MPs would want to go and watch football.
"There are many football supporters in the House of Commons on both sides and in the Lords as well, as there are in the media as there are in every walk of life."
Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury and a member of the all-party football group, said: "These people play a very important role in football. I do not think we should discriminate against politicians just because they are politicians.
"I would take them - the face value I would give to charity."
But Kevin Miles, international co-ordinator for the Football Supporters Federation, said McDonald's had handed over the tickets to curry favour with the MPs and criticised the politicians for asking for them.
He also said yesterday's revelations reflected a "chronic" problem in which FIFA distributed 40 per cent of World Cup tickets to sponsors, hospitality packages and non-competing associations.
"They've got the tickets because they're MPs, but the biggest crime is that McDonald's is in the position to give them out.
"They're doing it to buy themselves influence, let's make no mistake about it," he said.
A McDonald's spokes-woman said: "We have invited the parliamentary football team to an informal meal at a local restaurant. That is not corporate hospitality."