Eriksson warns fans to stay out of trouble

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The Independent Online

Sven Goran Eriksson is warning England supporters of the "weighty responsibility" they face at Euro 2004. In a personal message, the England manager says that any repeat of "the violence and disorder involving England fans that has clouded past tournaments" could lead to the team's expulsion from the competition.

"This must not happen: for the players, for the vast majority of decent fans, for the nation as a whole," Eriksson says. "The image of our game, and of the country, would be damaged beyond imagination."

Eriksson sends out his message as England fly to Portugal today. The tournament starts on Saturday, with England's first game, against France, the holders, in Lisbon on the following day.

"Every team is going into Euro 2004 with their own challenges and pressures, but England is unique in that we have a warning from Uefa hanging over us," Eriksson says. "We have been shown the yellow card - we cannot afford any more problems.

"Since coming to England I have been consistently impressed by the passion of English fans for their club, and for the national team. There is no other country that enjoys such huge support when it travels abroad, and it gives the players and me an enormous lift.

"However, there have been negative incidents during our qualifying campaign; in Bratislava, in Zurich, and in Sunderland. Much work needs to be done before the shadow of hooliganism is banished. It is not just about combating violence, it is also about fully restoring the good name of English football fans.

"The FA is doing everything it can to ensure that safety and security preparations are paramount. The policy of selling its ticket allocation exclusively to members of englandfans, the official supporters' club, ensures that there is control over who attends our games. However, the FA cannot be responsible for those fans who have bought tickets directly over the internet - we must trust them to be aware of the responsibility they carry.

"There is so much work going on to ensure that events off the field of play do not jeopardise our fortunes on it. The police and government agencies in the UK and Portugal have been working together to identify trouble-makers and prevent them from travelling to Euro 2004. Over 2,200 banning orders are currently in place, with more due before the tournament begins.

"However, self-policing is perhaps the most powerful weapon in the fight against hooliganism, and I know that the huge majority of England fans want nothing to do with violence and disorder."

The Football Association's official campaign for Euro 2004, All Together Now, promotes positive support during the tournament, both in Portugal and at home. Eriksson says: "It is driven by the passion and enthusiasm of hundreds of England supporters, who are organising a huge range of activities and goodwill initiatives around Euro 2004.

"The friendly in Faro was just the first step in building bridges between the football communities of the two countries. The players and I are delighted to give our full support to the campaign, as it exemplifies what football is about: inclusive, welcoming, and celebrating a common language."

Eriksson concludes his message by saying that England have an excellent chance of success in Portugal, despite the fact that the European Championship can be harder to win than the World Cup.

"Of the leading football nations, only Brazil and Argentina will not be there," Eriksson says. "Every group is tough, every match a real test. France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic - all these teams have an excellent chance of victory.

"And so do England. It has been a long time since England claimed a major prize, but with our key players fit we can go into the tournament with confidence. What a tragedy it would be, not only for the team but for the millions of England fans, if events off the pitch denied them this chance of glory.

"Most of all, Euro 2004 is a chance to celebrate the game we all love. Portugal is a country rich in natural beauty, cultural variety and football tradition. The Portuguese are warm, hospitable people, and are greatly looking forward to welcoming English fans.

"I hope that the supporters conduct themselves as they did at the World Cup two years ago. They were fantastic and left such a positive impression: dedicated to their team, respectful of their hosts. We all want the same thing, players, coaches and fans alike: success for England. We also want to show England in the best possible light, both on and off the pitch.

"The players and I will do our bit: we need the fans to do theirs. I am confident they will."

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