'English disease' is here to stay

  • Other Sport
  • Saturday, 03 May 2003

LONDON: England escaped the only punishment they feared on Thursday when UEFA decided not to force them to play behind closed doors following the racism and disorder at last month’s game against Turkey in Sunderland. 

Their US$110,600 fine will be dwarfed by the profits from the June 11 qualifier against Slovakia at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, where home support should help England to stay on course for a money-spinning place in the Euro 2004 Finals. 

The racist chanting at Sunderland was small-scale compared to that of Slovakia that led to their closed-door order while England’s players are likely to face a far more hostile environment for the return in Turkey in October. 

Also, many of the 100 arrests were preventative as police acted to diffuse a tense encounter following the fatal stabbing of two Leeds United fans in Turkey in 2000. 

UEFA said that they had taken into account the FA’s efforts to clamp down on the problems but could not ignore the poor record of England’s fans, particularly at away games, over the years. 

Like a weary headmaster sick of always seeing the same errant schoolboy, the governing body is talking about taking out the cane. 

“We took into account not only England’s relatively good record in home matches but also the fans’ behaviour in away matches and the steps the FA proposed to take,” UEFA spokesman Mike Lee said after announcing the fine, a record for racist offences. 

“We hope these will work. If not, disciplinary action will clearly be back on the agenda. The away record was on the table today.” 

England will not be taking up their allocation of tickets for the potentially explosive game in Turkey and have advised fans not to travel. 

UEFA welcomed the move, saying: “We entirely back the English FA in appealing to fans not to travel and not to do anything that puts this match in jeopardy. 

“The English FA has a responsibility here. The primary responsibility is with the home association but it is shared.” 

Lee also pointed out that England were threatened with expulsion from the Euro 2000 Finals after fan trouble in Belgium. “That threat existed then and could exist again,” he said. 

“Bear in mind there is Euro 2004 next summer – we don’t want to see anything like that being repeated.” 

Unfortunately, he is likely to be disappointed as England’s hooligan following have generally gravitated towards UEFA’s showpiece event. 

The 1980 edition in Italy was marred by widespread fighting and though France was spared in 1984 as England failed to qualify, the hooligans were back in force in Germany in 1988 and Sweden in 1992. 

Against expectations, Euro 96 – on English soil – was largely trouble-free but three years ago Belgium was the venue for more mayhem in Brussels and Charleroi. 

UEFA threatened England with expulsion but the team’s shortcomings on the pitch ensured that their stay was mercifully short-lived. 

Brussels also saw the culmination of decades of English hooliganism with the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, when 39 Juventus fans died after rioting by Liverpool supporters at the European Cup final. 

England’s punishment was a five-year ban on all clubs entering European competitions. 

Since then, the problem has been largely shifted from inside the grounds but it has by no means disappeared and an England match always exerts a gravitational pull for thugs. 

It does not help that the minority who create such an atmosphere of malevolence also act as a magnet for their like-minded counterparts in other countries. 

The “English disease” long ago infected the rest of Europe and UEFA are right to do all they can to eradicate it. 

However, no amount of Swiss franc fines or threatening talk from the Geneva lakeside is going to do the job. – Reuters 

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