Fans' voices have to be heard

Ian Ridley on football
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The Independent Online
Some abroad thoughts from home in this week of Manchester United supporters being summarily and dangerously mistreated in Portgual, as they were in Turkey two years ago. It is a story of safety last in European football's dash for cash.

Out of the almost unbearable sadness of Hillsborough in 1989 came the English game's redemption, through Lord Justice Taylor and in his wide- ranging report that resulted in safe, more comfortable all-seater stadiums. What, though, has come out of the Heysel disaster of 1985?

All reports from Oporto tell of another crumbling, inadequate stadium with the potential for another Hillsborough: unsympathetic, brutal police far beyond any incompetence in South Yorkshire contributing to the mayhem. Uefa's standards, as the European game's governing body rushes ever onward to expand their competitions, are clearly somewhat lower than those in Britain. The greed, too, of the Portuguese in wanting to take the money of so many United supporters without providing properly for them seems to be another factor.

When it comes to an inquiry, as Uefa insist there will be, perhaps this time they will look at their own standards and those they demand of competing clubs as more ill-prepared ones qualify for Europe. They might also canvass views of supporters who were in Portugal; too often - in Britain, too, with recent regard to Brighton, for example - fans' evidence is not sought.

The less rabid supporters might even agree that some of their number are not entirely blameless. A problem is that certain alcohol-fuelled behaviour is tolerated these days as long as it falls short of violence. One recalls in Barcelona two years ago seeing United supporters the day before the match urinating in public, breaking bottles and swearing loudly. Such things are recalled come pay-back time on match night, with the innocent caught up in the fray.

A young caller to David Mellor's last 606 radio programme before he switched to the general election campaign, last week suggested that Germany deserved the World Cup of 2006 as England's hosting of Euro 96 had revealed the nation to be bad, violent losers.

Mellor was indignant, pointing out how well the tournament had gone. He may have overlooked the distasteful, damaging scenes in central London on hot summer nights and the stabbing of a young Russian student mistaken for a German but he had a point. After last Wednesday, we should be grateful for better-trained British police and the safety standards we enjoy at stadiums. It behoves we spectators to respond in an accordingly civilised manner.

Uefa should also respond positively to the lessons of Oporto. Morally they may feel Germany has the better case for 2006 but must surely need to insist on an end to the terracing still widespread there and the removal of fences. They have nine years, after all.

TO help plug its 2006 World Cup campaign, the FA hosted a premiere of the film version of Nick Hornby's Nineties zeitgeist football book Fever Pitch in London last week, the governing body playing the role of Pearl & Dean as they revealed their rather moving six-minute video which they hope will sell England to the world.

Fever Pitch, which opens in London on 4 April, has gone beyond the love story of Hornby and Arsenal to encompass the eternal triangle at the heart of every good story of boy, girl and football. Very dramatic and touching it is, as the woman two seats along from me who blubbed throughout will testify.

And witty, too, as is to be expected from Hornby's velvet quill. His character, played by Colin Firth (well, why not, as another film critic might say; if you get the choice, pick someone who flatters you) - is a north London teacher in charge of the school team. One hilarious scene has him coaching a square back four to move in a line with right arms aloft and yelling an offside appeal. For all the fantasy, realism can live in the cinema.

TO MARK his 70th birthday on 2 April, Ferenc Puskas, in association with Rogan Taylor and Klara Jamrich, has produced a charming, atmospheric auto- biography, Puskas on Puskas (Robson Books, pounds 17.95). It details just how England were beaten 6-3 at Wembley in 1953 in that touchstone match. The Hungarian FA president Sandor Barcs says of coach Gusztav Sebes's team talk: "The tactical discussion before the Wembley match lasted about four hours. It took place in the Cumberland Hotel. Sebes spoke for ages and I could understand hardly anything of it. He was so excited, he wasn't making much sense and I noticed worried expressions on the faces of some of the players." Straight from the coaching manual: keep it short, keep it simple.

OVERHEARD, this exchange between young lad and his dad...

Lad: "Dad, it says on the radio that Paul Merson has gone into hospital for a hearing aid."

Dad: "No, son. He has a hernia."

Lad (after pause): "Dad..."

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