England warned to expect ban if fans travel to Istanbul

Turkey fears overshadow Liechtenstein game as Wales try to lift spirits and German favourite hopes to make point with Scotland
Click to follow

First Sven Goran Eriksson warned that supporters could be risking death by travelling to England's final Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey next month. Now the Football Association has said that England face a real risk of being banned from playing at next summer's tournament if fans ignore warnings not to travel.

"If our fans genuinely love our country and our football team, don't put us through the shame of being kicked out of the tournament before it's started," Paul Barber, the FA's marketing director, said. "Please listen to the advice of the government, the police and the FA, and stay away from Turkey."

David James also insisted that fans should stay away. "Turkey is going to be a nightmare," England's goalkeeper said. "Fans are going out there at their own risk. They should heed the warnings and not go."

With Uefa announcing that it had started investigating alleged racial chanting at England's black players by Macedonia supporters in Skopje on Saturday - while also criticising David Beckham for applauding English fans who had been asked not to travel - preparations for tomorrow's qualifier against Liechtenstein at Old Trafford were somewhat overshadowed.

Not that there was much positive news to report. Manchester United's Nicky Butt and Rio Ferdinand have both been ruled out. Butt is recovering from an ankle injury and will not be considered for selection despite training. Ferdinand, who has had a liver problem, has withdrawn from the squad.

There are also doubts over whether Steven Gerrard, Sol Campbell and Beckham will start. Each has collected one yellow card in the qualifying games and another tomorrow would keep them out of the crucial Turkey match. A win tomorrow would leave England needing a point in Istanbul to top their qualifying group, but all eyes are already on the Turkey match for other reasons.

Barber said the FA was "very disappointed" that several hundred supporters had ignored calls not to travel to Skopje. "This was far from helpful and, inevitably, the presence of England supporters in a stadium with no planned segregation led to a number of incidents. In fact, some England fans asked to be moved because they feared for their own safety. This is precisely why we were urging England fans not to travel in the first place."

Barber said he was also concerned by the behaviour of the Macedonian fans. "It's clear to all of us that there was jeering of our national anthem. A Cross of St George flag was also burned before kick-off. Our black players, most notably Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey, suffered racial abuse from some sections of the home fans."

Barber stopped short of criticising England's players for applauding fans who had defied warnings not to travel. He said it was a "spontaneous" gesture, adding that Eriksson will be told to ensure his players know that such behaviour is not welcome.

Mike Lee, Uefa's chief spokesman, criticised Beckham for acknowledging the fans. "I don't think it was the best thing to have done, particularly after the problems that occurred at the Stadium of Light [against Turkey in April]," he said. On that occasion, players' celebrations led to pitch incursions by fans.

Uefa's investigation into the Macedonian fans' behaviour will conclude with a disciplinary hearing in early October. The FA has provided evidence to Uefa's delegate at Saturday's match, who will include it in his official report. Macedonia are likely to face tough punishment if found guilty.

Slovakia were ordered to play their home qualifier against Liechtenstein in April behind closed doors after their fans racially abused England players in Bratislava last October. England were fined £70,000 in May for racial abuse and crowd trouble against Turkey in Sunderland in April.

Not everyone is dreading the Turkey rematch. Gerrard said he was "quite looking forward to it. I'm sure we're going to show character".

Whether he will even be taking part could depend on whether he plays tomorrow, and if so, whether he avoids a booking. Eriksson has not decided whether to risk him. "If I play, I'll need to take a different approach, calm, cool," Gerrard said. Supporters take note.

Comments