Europe gives England vote of confidence

DUBLIN AFTERMATH: Uefa set to give the FA the go-ahead to stage European Championship despite riot at Lansdowne Road
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Uefa, European football's governing body, is likely to give England the go-ahead next month to stage the 1996 European Championship, despite Wednesday night's riot in Dublin.

As the Football Association confirmed its intention to press ahead with its plans for Euro '96, Uefa officials stressed the need not to over-react in the wake of the violent scenes which forced the abandonment of the international between the Republic of Ireland and England at Lansdowne Road.

Gerhard Aigner, Uefa's general secretary, said: "I think we should keep calm and look at what has actually happened and also appreciate that incidents with English so-called supporters traditionally happen outside England, rather than in England.

"This is not a new situation that should cause us to change all our plans. We should remain calm and see that these incidents can be avoided in the future, because I'm quite confident that they won't happen in England itself."

The football associations of England and the Republic are to hold a joint inquiry into Wednesday's violence. Because the match was a "friendly", Uefa did not have an official observer in Dublin and it has asked the two associations to provide reports on the violence by the beginning of next week.

Only when Uefa has studied those reports will it make any definitive announcement about the fate of Euro '96, which was given to England in the first place partly as a reward for its efforts to stamp out hooliganism. Uefa will have preliminary talks with FA officials this weekend.

Although officials around Europe were generally sympathetic with the FA, Lennart Johansson, the Uefa president, said that "football in England must be called into question".

He added: "The clock has been turned back. The English have succeeded quite well in cleaning up at home. But as soon as they go abroad things happen."

Johansson said he felt doubly disappointed because he had fought for England's return to European football, following a ban after the Heysel catastrophe in Brussels in 1985. "Yeah, that's the thanks I get, I said to myself this morning," he said. "I did a lot for the English clubs' return...now, incidents are piling up that are making me have misgivings."

Lars Christer Olsen, a member of Uefa's committee for Euro '96, said he believed the tournament should go ahead as planned. Olsen, general secretary of the Swedish FA, said: "The result of these riots last night is that we will look firmly into the security problems. But I still think the championships should be held in England."

Speaking on BBC radio, he added: "One single thing like this shouldn't destroy the preparations for Euro '96. It is not only in England that these things are happening, unfortunately. As you know, there have also been some problems in Italy and France lately."

Antonio Matarrese, president of the Italian Federation and a vice-president of Uefa, said: "However serious the scenes were in Dublin, they cannot bring into question the staging of the European Championships in England. We cannot humiliate such a prestigious federation and a country with such a football tradition."

A spokesman for the Dutch Football Association, Rob de Leede, said every act of violence damaged football but said there was no need yet to doubt England's organisation of the championships.

Joo Havelange, the president of Fifa, the game's world governing body, also backed England's staging of the tournament. Speaking at a press conference in Zurich, Havelange said: "England does not deserve, because of a localised problem...to have a sporting right withdrawn. That's the opinion of the president of Fifa and I'm sure it's the opinion of Fifa."

Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, said at a press conference in London: "We are very heartened by the support we have received right across the board today.

"We have spoken to Fifa and Uefa and they are confident in our ability to stage a trouble-free Euro '96. We have some of the most sophisticated security systems in the world to do that."

There have been a number of outbreaks of hooliganism around Europe in recent weeks, including the fatal stabbing of a supporter in Italy, and the relocation of Euro '96 would provide a severe problem for Uefa.

Because of England's experience in controlling hooliganism with segregation, closed-circuit television, all-seater stadiums and other measures, there is a general feeling that it is still well placed to stage the tournament.

Detective Chief Inspector Bryan Drew, of the police's Football Intelligence Unit, said: "I believe that we are probably better placed than virtually any other country to deal with that.

"We have made significant steps in dealing with the problem inside the football grounds in England over the last few years. The problems we have had have come outside the grounds and abroad when people have attached themselves to the English national team."

Glen Kirton, the tournament director for Euro '96, asked: "Is it worth it for civilisation to allow yourself not to do something because of the actions of what amounts to 50 politically motivated thugs?"

Kirton said that security was always a major concern at any international tournament. "But there is no country in the world more sophisticated in dealing with these things than England," he said. "We will redouble our efforts, look at what happened in Ireland, learn lessons and make sure it does not happen next year."

Around 250,000 foreign fans are expected in England next summer for Euro '96, which will be staged at eight different grounds from 8 to 30 June. Some 7,000 tickets will be made available to each of the 15 qualifying countries for each of their games. The FA has already sold about 275,000 of the 1.3 million tickets that will be available.

A 10-point plan has already been drawn up in an attempt to ensure that tickets do not fall into the wrong hands. All applications are being held on computer and checks will be made to ensure that applications from known hooligans will be rejected.

"The first thing we will do is remove the capacity to obtain tickets from anybody who is convicted for - or who we can identify as having anything to do with - what happened in Dublin," Kirton said.

In an attempt to limit tickets being resold or getting into the hands of touts, no tickets will be sent out until the month before the tournament. The names of purchasers will be printed on the tickets, which will also incorporate sophisticated security precautions such as bar codes and holograms in an attempt to prevent forgeries.

Closed-circuit television cameras will be used in conjunction with the database so that the authorities will be able to identify and name anyone sitting in any seat in any ground. Crowds will be strictly segregated.

The FA has already invested considerable resources in the tournament and is not expecting to make a large profit from it. The FA's income will largely come from 20 per cent of the total ticket revenue, plus 10 per cent of the commercial income and a further 10 per cent of the worldwide television contract.

"If there was a disaster which meant the tournament did not take place, the big cost would be in time and effort," Kirton said.

"If we sell 100 per cent of the tickets there is a margin of profitability, but it is not very big. The true reward for the effort we have put in is the prestige of English football."

Calls for identity cards were rejected by the FA, which also said that a ban on away fans was impractical. It called for heavy punishments for the troublemakers and set up a freephone line (0800 515495) for genuine fans to help identify them.

The FA will also examine the risks of sending England abroad again in October to play Norway in Oslo, where there were running street battles before a World Cup qualifier two years ago. It will also question the wisdom of next month's Uefa Under-21 Championship qualifying match against the Republic of Ireland in Cork, and re-examine the arrangements made by Chelsea and Arsenal for their forthcoming European matches.

One match that could be under threat is next month's European Championship qualifying game between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, due to be staged at Lansdowne Road. In the light of Wednesday night's events it may be switched to a neutral venue, although Irish officials are keen to keep the game.

Sean Connolly, the Football Association of Ireland's chief executive, said: "Only around 100 or so Northern Ireland supporters are being allowed to come to Lansdowne Road next month and I don't see a security problem for that match. We certainly intend to carry on with it. We had no real problems last time."

The violence in Dublin followed recent outbreaks of hooliganism at Blackburn and Chelsea. When he was asked yesterday whether the old problem of hooliganism had returned to the English game, Sir Bert Millichip, the FA chairman, said: "I'm worried about it and I would sincerely hope that is not so.

"But you tell me what more the Football Association, or football itself, can do about it. I do believe that our organisation, in looking at these matters, is second to none throughout the whole of Europe."

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