| File picture of policemen taking action against a fan before the April 2 Euro 2004 qualifier between England and Turkey in Sunderland
The campaign to kick racism and hooliganism out of football suffered a grievous setback Thursday when Uefa, the governing body of the game in Europe, decided to fine the Football Association only £75,000 for the sustained malevolence that scarred England’s Euro 2004 qualifier with Turkey in Sunderland on April 2.
The booing of the Turkish anthem, racist chants, two pitch invasions and the English fans’ attack on Alpay, the visitors’ centre-half, has been deemed as worthy of punishment equal to one-twentieth of what the FA earned from that night at the Stadium of Light.
Too diplomatic to smile, the FA looked mightily relieved when the nine men on Uefa’s control and disciplinary body emerged from Courtroom One here at Uefa’s lake-side home to announce their timorous response to English aggression.
The FA pays such a sum to England’s coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, every week.
Uefa insisted this was a “final warning” and that future transgressions would probably be met with a “ground closure” or “expulsion” of England from the Euro 2004 campaign. However, Uefa also made similar noises at Euro 2000 and the shaming antics of what the FA calls a “mindless minority” of England’s fans has continued, most notably in Bratislava and now in Sunderland.
It emerged Thursday that the modest nature of the sanctions was rooted in Uefa’s concern over an appeal by the FA if the punishment had been greater. “The Control and Disciplinary Body are a court and one faced with the prospect of endless appeals,” said Mike Lee, Uefa’s director of communications, before outlining the fear of legal challenge that lies at the heart of Uefa’s weak punishments.
Slightly bizarrely, Uefa can appeal against a ruling of their own Control and Disciplinary Body, imposing a more substantial sanction but this has led to problems in recent cases. “In the [racism] case of PSV Eindhoven, there was a much, much lower fine originally and we appealed against that fine,” explained Lee. “The fine was slightly increased and we are now in the Court of Arbitration in Lausanne facing a court case that could have real significance to the future of sanctions in football.
“But our appeals did work with the Slovakians [again over racism] when we appealed against our original fine and that led to them having to play a game behind closed doors.”
The moral of the story is that England and PSV have better lawyers than the impoverished Slovakians. England have escaped partly because Uefa does not feel legally confident enough to bring them to account over incidents outside stadia. There was trouble outside the Stadium of Light while Eriksson described city-centre scenes in Bratislava as “something from the Wild West” when English fans clashed with Slovakian fans and security forces. “Those are matters for police,” stressed Lee.
The FA is also looking to the police to assist them in cleaning up the stain on the Three Lions. Working in conjunction with Northumbria Police, the FA is to publish photographs of those fans who invaded the pitch at the Stadium of Light.
“Grounds have great CCTV now and your newspapers also carried pictures and from those images we want to identify the people who came on the pitch and have them charged,” said Paul Barber, the FA’s director of marketing and communications.
The first real test for the FA, which is being “closely monitored by Uefa,” will come on the evening of June 3 when the Serbia and Montenegro national anthem is played before the friendly at Leicester City. If there is the ritual jeering of an opponents’ anthem, an offence Uefa has decreed as racist, the FA hopes the security forces will intervene.
Any pitch invasion will trigger life bans. “If racism is heard,” added Barber, “we want the police to identify them, eject them, arrest them and charge them.”
To lessen the likelihood of pitch invasions, Barber will talk to England’s players to encourage them to celebrate away from the touchlines.
Another test for Barber’s organisation will come in September for the trip to Macedonia — “another sensitive match” — but particularly in October when England travel to Istanbul. The FA is refusing tickets but suspects some fans will go.
“We need the supporters’ groups to stand alongside us and say to fans ‘Don’t go to Turkey’,” added Barber. “But I am not sure how we can be held responsible for people who travel independently to Turkey when we haven’t sold them tickets.”