Football: City charged over pitch invasion: Football authorities hold firm against return of fences

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FOOTBALL built a united front yesterday against the return of fences for spectators after Manchester City were charged with a breach of Football Association rules following the pitch invasion during Sunday's FA Cup quarter- final with Tottenham. The FA has also set up an inquiry.

As City officials and the authorities took stock of the game's worst crowd disorder for 12 months, there was universal accord that what was required was an improvement in stewarding and policing and not the reimposition of fences.

Peter Swales, the City chairman and head of the FA's international committee, was told of the charge following yesterday's meeting of the FA Council. If found guilty of rule 24 (a and b) relating to crowd behaviour, the club could be handed a hefty fine or an order to play a number of games behind closed doors.

There were 37 arrests inside and outside Maine Road and 20 fans ejected as a result of the trouble which occurred three minutes from the end of a game won 4-2 by Spurs. The referee, Ray Lewis, kept the players off for 13 minutes before the police regained control. As television viewers across the world witnessed the scenes, Swales said he had been 'betrayed' by a minority and described it as the worst day of his football life. Yesterday he was slightly more circumspect.

'I have watched what happened quite a few times. I'm still sad about it but I don't feel as bad as I did immediately afterwards because it was reasonably controlled,' Swales said. 'There was no violence - just a pitch invasion. Our arrangements at City are as good as anybody's. We will do something but I don't know what the answer is at the moment.

'I don't want to see the fences go back up. That would be a retrograde step.'

Fences and images of penned-in supporters are inextricably linked with the harrowing memory of Hillsborough when, in April 1989, 96 fans, trapped in the Leppings Lane end, were crushed to death. Lord Justice Taylor, in his inquiry into the tragedy, recommended the removal of fences and the introduction of all-seat stadiums.

Ironically, the majority of fans causing Sunday's trouble came from the new pounds 6m Umbro Stand which had been opened that afternoon. It had been agreed that security at that end would be handled by stewards and before the game the City security chief, Jack Richards, a former police superintendent, said he hoped that eventually the entire ground would be managed by stewards and not police.

City are at home to Coventry tomorrow but a more opportune test of their security will come on Saturday week when they face their neighbours, United, in the Manchester derby. Before the game Rick Parry, the chief executive of the Premier League, will talk with both sides.

'We are concerned that City get things right,' he said. 'We would certainly hope that they are going to do their utmost to root out the offenders. It is premature to talk about bringing back fences. The immediate need is to get a proper balance between stewarding and policing.'

The Premier League has a criteria committee exploring ways to develop the game and facilities and one of its members, Robert Chase, the Norwich chairman, believes better stewarding could have prevented the trouble at Maine Road. 'Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I would want to know if, three minutes from the end, the stewards were in their appropriate positions around the ground.'

Richard Faulkner, of the Football Trust, which has been helping clubs finance ground improvements, also stressed the dangers of hasty action. 'Fences coming down is one of the factors behind improved behaviour and improved atmosphere at grounds,' he said.

The Ron Atkinson show, page 30