England hit with huge ban

NYON (Switzerland): UEFA fined England a record 150,000 Swiss francs (US$110,600) yesterday for the racist abuse and crowd trouble at a Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey last month. 

But Europe’s ruling body stopped short of ordering England to play their next game in an empty stadium, a move that could have cost the cash-strapped English Football Association (FA) up to £2mil (US$3.22mil). 

UEFA found the FA guilty of two charges relating to racist chanting and pitch invasions by England fans during the 2-0 win over Turkey at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on April 2. 

The fine was the largest handed out for a racism-related charge by UEFA. 

In a statement UEFA said its disciplinary committee “expressed their grave concern at the potential risk that occurred to match participants (players and officials) and totally condemned the offensive and racist verbal abuse of opposing fans”. 

UEFA spokesman Mike Lee told reporters: “It sends a very clear signal and a very clear warning to the English FA about these issues.” 

He added that UEFA’s disciplinary committee had considered ordering England to play their next Group Seven qualifier, against Slovakia on June 11 at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, behind closed doors. 

But Lee said England’s efforts to tackle racism had been taken into account and “at this stage ground closure was not appropriate”. 

Slovakia were ordered by UEFA to play their home Euro 2004 tie against Liechtenstein last month behind closed doors after their fans racially abused England players in another qualifier in Bratislava in October. 

After Thursday’s ruling the English FA’s director of marketing and communications, Paul Barber, told reporters that the FA supported UEFA’s anti-racism stance and said: “We have got to rid ourselves of this mindless minority. 

“We are very serious about this. We have to do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” 

UEFA cleared both the English and Turkish FAs over separate charges relating to alleged incidents in the players’ tunnel “due to a lack of evidence”. 

But it criticised as “provocative” the celebrations of England players after David Beckham scored the second goal from a penalty. He and several teammates ran over to the corner flag and were engulfed by supporters running on to the pitch. 

Tension at England-Turkey games is especially high after the fatal stabbing of two Leeds United supporters at a UEFA Cup game in Istanbul in 2000. Police made around 100 arrests before and during April’s game. 

UEFA did welcome moves announced before the hearing by the English FA to crack down on troublemakers, including life bans for any fans who ventured on to the pitch at England games. 

England are also set to turn down their ticket allocation for the qualifier in Turkey in October to avert further trouble. 

Lee described them as “positive steps” but pointed out that the English FA had a responsibility to ensure fans without tickets did not try to attend the Turkey match. 

In another decision announced yesterday, UEFA fined Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson 10,000 Swiss francs for claiming that the Champions League quarter-final draw was fixed. 

Ferguson later apologised for his comments. Both he and the English FA have until 2200 GMT on Monday to appeal. – Reuters 

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