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UEFA Solely to blame?


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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/ ... 890310.ece

Uefa solely to blame? Let those without tickets cast the first stone

Martin Samuel

A Royal Opera House production of IntoThe Woods opens next week. Short run, small theatre, the Nessun Dorma set were straight in. You can?t get tickets for love nor money now, it seems so unfair. I haven?t missed a Sondheim show in town for years, so there is only one thing for it: turn up anyway and try to score a ticket on the black market.

If that does not work, forge one, steal one, blag my way in and sit in a stranger?s seat. Or if all else fails, charge the entrance to the stalls. If the mission ends horribly, in violence, injury or distress, I will blame the Royal Opera for staging it at the Linbury Studio Theatre, not the larger capacity Main House.

And, no, I do not seek to compare my enthusiasm for the great writer of the American stage with the intense devotion of a Liverpool supporter left high and dry for a ticket in Athens, but in any debate around the chaos at the Champions League final last month and its subsequent fallout, it is important to acknowledge that in football we accept as stock behaviour that which would not be deemed socially appropriate in any other walk of life.

If you cannot get a ticket for the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean three at the Odeon, you don?t go. Simple as that. Unless you are looking to pay four times face value from a tout, the same applies to George Michael at Wembley, or the Chelsea Flower Show, or the men?s final at Wimbledon. Only in the increasingly bizarre world of the big match do we find nothing unusual in 20,000 people arriving with tickets and the same number arriving without but still expecting to get in, with nothing to do but drink and mill around and fume at their predicament until a combination of frustration, anger and rowdiness culminates in the scenes that we saw outside the Olympic Stadium in Athens.

?My heart sank as I stood and watched what was happening. After what happened in Sheffield in 1989 I couldn?t believe Liverpool fans, of all people, could do such dangerous things. I honestly feared people were going to get crushed and we were going to have another Hillsborough. It was disgusting. The people who stormed into the stadium are the scum of the earth. They put at risk hundreds of lives and should be ashamed of themselves. The vast majority of Liverpool fans are impeccably behaved, but there has always been a hard core of mindless thugs that ruin it for the rest. It hurts me to say this, but I won?t be following Liverpool on their travels in future.?

The last line gives it away, but that was not another preemptive rant from William Gaillard, Uefa?s loose-cannon spokesman. These are the words of Phil Hammond, who lost his son Philip at Hillsborough and is chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group. When such a man is moved to speak out, it is time to listen.

Gaillard?s love of the limelight and his fondness for the incendiary quote has spoilt it for everybody. Rather than opening a debate about official and personal responsibility, which would have been healthy and could have prevented a tragedy occurring down the line, it has turned the issues into a game of claim and counterclaim. Michel Platini, the Uefa president, was backtracking hastily yesterday, contradicting Gaillard?s smears, and the possibility of a working party to explore suitable final venues is positive, but the accusations that followed the match have trod a predictable path, with two sides pointing fingers and shouting: ?You started it.?

Maybe Uefa?s aggressive stance was the product of a general weariness that whenever there is an incident involving English fans in Europe, the news channels, websites and phone-ins overflow with tales of police brutality, Ultra provocation and official incompetence. Some of the accusations have credibility, but less common are accounts that concede that the behaviour of certain Englishmen abroad (and while it is a minority, it is not always a small one) is confrontational.

That is why voices such as Hammond?s and Tony Evans, a Liverpool supporter, author and Deputy Football Editor of The Times, are so important. The day after the final, Evans, while rightly condemning Uefa?s organisation, also conceded that some Liverpool fans regard entering the ground without payment as a badge of honour. The mythology of the wise-cracking scally indulges this and some writers fall for it, but Evans identified this culture as creating an unpleasant atmosphere and hostile scenes inside and outside away grounds.

He cited incidents at Stamford Bridge two years ago and in Eindhoven last season. No doubt these were among reports handed to Richard Caborn, the Sports Minister, by Uefa yesterday. Yet Evans, whose Red credentials are impeccable, can say these things; others cannot. Too often, when an attempt is made to address why Liverpool supporters contrive to be at once England?s most loved (the vibrancy of Anfield on European nights) and its most hated (the attack on the ambulance taking Alan Smith, the Manchester United striker, to hospital after breaking a leg at Anfield) is taken as a slap in the face to the city as a whole. It is not. No one believes that the ambulance chasers were representative of all Liverpool fans, but they were representative of some. The club cannot lay claim to the good but not the bad.

Take the case of Michael Shields, a Liverpool fan imprisoned for the attempted murder of Martin Georgiev, a Bulgarian bartender, while on his way back from the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul.

Many believe that the Bulgarian authorities got the wrong man, not least because two days after Shields?s conviction on July 26, 2005, Graham Sankey, another Liverpool supporter, confessed to the assault in writing (although his solicitors retracted this claim in March 2006).

The Bulgarian courts insist that Shields is guilty and refuse to accept any evidence from Sankey that is not given in Bulgaria, or by video link. Yet while the Free Michael pressure group has a strong presence inside Anfield, there is no parallel campaign to extradite Sankey, meaning that we have lost sight of the one certain victim here: the barman, Georgiev.

This fits the desire to portray English fans as the victims, forever at the mercy of unscrupulous foreign justice systems and brutal, fascistic policemen. We focus on the innocent casualties of the baton charge ? and there have been too many this season ? but never ask why such viciousness is deemed necessary.

The issue is wider than Liverpool versus Europe and is better expressed in these constant reminders that the majority of English supporters travel trouble-free. We now want credit for what we are supposed to do; behaviour that should in any civilised country be taken for granted. ?We don?t cause any trouble . . .? You?re not meant to cause trouble. ?We just want to have a laugh . . .? We all want to have a laugh. ?I?ve never been arrested at football . . .? You?re not meant to get arrested at football.

Even Hammond, whose emotions in Athens must have been horribly raw, still added the coda about the impeccable behaviour of most Liverpool fans to his condemnation of the few. We are constantly tiptoeing around the fragile sensibilities of the English football supporter, this shrinking violet so hasty to indignant tears if his integrity is questioned.

It is time to revisit our definition of good behaviour. Basically, people who charge barriers are bad. People who don?t are not good, they are just people, behaving normally. We do not give out praise to the millions of citizens who go about their daily lives without committing a crime. At football, why do we crave recognition for common sense?

The reason we have to address these issues is that only then can we take on Uefa without fear of another descent into worthless tit-for-tat. The bottom line is that Uefa is a lousy tournament manager, as inept as any governing body in world sport. This is dangerous and must change. The European Championship in Portugal in 2004 made the 1998 African Cup of Nations in Burkina Faso look almost Teutonic in its efficiency.

Uefa is so obsessed with its corporate partners that it has taken to holding the Champions League final at inappropriate, generic venues that can be plastered, like a blank canvas, with its brands. For Uefa, the problem with a final at Old Trafford is that evidence of Manchester United, and their commercial partners, is everywhere. Better to send the match to a state-run venue with no club allegiance, even if the stadium is unsuited to the event.

If Liverpool supporters have emerged with reputations scarred from Athens, they deserved medals for venturing without incident to the Atat?rk Stadium in Istanbul, an isolated location at odds with the travel needs of a large crowd. The man who put it there should have been made to walk home. Another Uefa favourite, the Stade de France in Paris, can be a nightmare of tight connections and unhelpful cab drivers. Next year?s venue, Moscow, promises to set records for outrageous hotel and flight prices, if the rates for England?s visit there in October are anything to go by.

Yet, despite this, a bottom-line fact remains. With greater social responsibility, the final in Athens would have been workable. Those with tickets would have got in, those without would have watched the match elsewhere. And, yes, it would have been unfair on some, but there would be a far better chance of positive action if Uefa was not able to deflect criticism with a counteracting list of grievances against Liverpool fans.

The allocation of tickets to both clubs was a joke, but there was only trouble at one end. So while it is Uefa?s fault, it is ours, too. And we won?t do anything about Uefa until we sort ourselves out.

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Have you read that Rob?

To summarise: Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night.

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Have you read that Rob?

To summarise: Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night.

lofty, are you sure you read my posts. I agree with your summary and have never disagreed.

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Have you read that Rob?

To summarise: Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night.

lofty, are you sure you read my posts. I agree with your summary and have never disagreed.

I have to admit I haven't read every single word of every one of your posts - at one stage I took a step backwards when it was apparent that there was so much going over of old ground, not just by yourself, and not only on this forum either.

By asking if you'd read the article, I wasn't having a go so much as suggesting it would be a good idea if you did.

I'm glad we agree.

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Rob to be fair you may have agreed with those statements but everytime you've said "but......"

This is the point that people have been trying to make, no-one from Liverpool, official or otherwise has ever just accepted that what they done was wrong and left it at that.

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Rob to be fair you may have agreed with those statements but everytime you've said "but......"

This is the point that people have been trying to make, no-one from Liverpool, official or otherwise has ever just accepted that what they done was wrong and left it at that.

and i will continue to say "but...", Barn. To me there is a huge difference between what i am saying and this article. Lofty has summarised by saying

Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night
but i have never been trying to excuse the bahaviour of THOSE liverpool fans on the night. Not at any point. I have been trying to excuse the actions of my club and stating that the other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than my club does.
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and i will continue to say "but...", Barn. To me there is a huge difference between what i am saying and this article. Lofty has summarised by saying
Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night
but i have never been trying to excuse the bahaviour of THOSE liverpool fans on the night. Not at any point. I have been trying to excuse the actions of my club and stating that the other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than my club does.

Thing is I could accept some of that, right up until the point you say

other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than my club does

because that is total rubbish. Liverpool can only be considered less to blame than other authorities if you totally disassociate the club from the fans and that is something that has never happened and never will happen in football. A club is always held accountable for their fans behaviour. By saying Liverpool are possibly less to blame than other authorities you are, in effect, saying Liverpool fans are less to blame than the other authorities and that simply isn't true.

That is a total (pardon the pun) Kop out. When fans misbehave clubs take the flack, it is the way things are. These were your fans, therefore your club takes the blame.

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and i will continue to say "but...", Barn. To me there is a huge difference between what i am saying and this article. Lofty has summarised by saying

Yes Uefa are incompetent; and no the stadium wasn't exactly the most suitable venue. But neither of these factors excuse the behaviour of Liverpool fans on the night
but i have never been trying to excuse the bahaviour of THOSE liverpool fans on the night. Not at any point. I have been trying to excuse the actions of my club and stating that the other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than my club does.

Thing is I could accept some of that, right up until the point you say

other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than my club does

because that is total rubbish. Liverpool can only be considered less to blame than other authorities if you totally disassociate the club from the fans and that is something that has never happened and never will happen in football. A club is always held accountable for their fans behaviour. By saying Liverpool are possibly less to blame than other authorities you are, in effect, saying Liverpool fans are less to blame than the other authorities and that simply isn't true.

That is a total (pardon the pun) Kop out. When fans misbehave clubs take the flack, it is the way things are. These were your fans, therefore your club takes the blame.

in that case it is a misunderstanding, becuase although i agree that the club and the fans are as one and share responsibility, the whole way through this debate they have been used as separate sticks to beat me (us) with. I will rewrite that final sentence... "other factors need to hold their hands up as much, if not more than the club does, but nowhere near as much as those fans involved do."

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Guest Brian M

Ban them for 12 months. (just them, not all bl**y English teams) - then see how well their so called 'fans' behave next time around.

Though I think we all know that nothing will have changed...

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