The Football Association have paid tribute to the fans who heeded the warning of the captain David Beckham by behaving almost impeccably during England's friendly against Serbia and Montenegro.
The FA had been given a final warning by Uefa, the Eurtopean game's governing body, that any repetition of the ugly scenes that marred their victory against Turkey at the Stadium of Light could be punished by elimination from the Euro 2004 finals. Beckham, therefore, delivered a televised address, urging supporters last night to turn their backs on racism, foul language, pitch invasions and booing of the opponents' national anthem. In fact, that anthem was roundly applauded.
The FA spokesman, Adrian Bevington declared: "The fans behaved in an impeccable manner and that's the way we want supporters to behave at every England game. The anthems were respected, which was very important, and there was a very relaxed, good-humoured atmosphere throughout the day."
Bevington added that the FA wanted a similar atmosphere at Middlesbrough for the Euro 2004 qualifier against Slovakia next Wednesday and said: "This is no time for anyone, least of all the FA, to rest on their laurels."
Certainly, the team cannot afford to bask in their 2-1 victory in a messy game. Sven Goran Eriksson defended his right to deploy key players sparingly with next week's Euro 2004 qualifier looming and insisted a sell-out crowd were not short-changed by a match in which almost four teams' worth of players were used. "The opinion of coaches and managers is that friendlies should be like this," Eriksson said. "I think the public enjoyed themselves I hope so anyway but I don't know about the TV or sponsors."
Eriksson cited the half-time withdrawal of four players as having been made with the Slovakia game in mind. "Michael Owen, Gareth Southgate, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard are four players we must have fit for that game. It's understandable that we rested them. They are very important to us."
By the same token, a movable feast of a match afforded Eriksson the opportunity to gauge the fitness, form and temperament of some of England's younger players. Joe Cole, a late addition to the squad after the withdrawals of Nicky Butt and Danny Murphy, delighted the Swede with a winner that was bent in like Beckham.
Eriksson said. "When I phoned him to ask him to join us he was on holiday in Dubai. I said: 'Come with us to South Africa and we'll see how it goes. though maybe I'll send you back to the Under-21s'. His answer was very positive. He told me: 'I'll train hard and play well so that you will want to keep me'. I liked that. And he will be staying with the senior squad now."
Wayne Rooney had also impressed him, but Matthew Upson, who made an assured first start for England, was the only home player to sustain an injury a "dead leg".Reuse content