The Macedonia football association have admitted that England's black players face racist abuse at tomorrow's Euro 2008 qualifier at the Gradski stadium despite the governing body's efforts to discourage home fans from repeating the disgraceful scenes of England's last visit three years ago.
The Macedonians have gone to great lengths to avoid the abuse and burning of an English flag that cost them £10,730 in fines from Uefa when they faced England in that Euro 2004 qualifier. On that night, which ended in a 2-1 victory for England, Sol Campbell, Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole were all victims.
The hostile atmosphere had grown in the weeks running up to that game in which the Macedonians had claimed they were insulted by reports in British newspapers. The FA had asked England fans not to travel to the game and not made tickets available because they feared a repeat of the violence during the previous home game against Turkey could see them ejected from the competition.
This time the Macedonian FA have even taken out adverts in newspapers to make clear that they will not tolerate racism. They know that their young nation cannot afford the stigma of being regarded as one of European football's repeat racist offenders.
Zoran Mikolovski, a spokesman for the Macedonian FA said: "As we stand today, it's difficult to say that we're absolutely confident that it won't happen again, but we have taken all the measures possible to make sure the fans know this sort of behaviour is not acceptable. We have put many articles into the newspapers in Macedonia to get this message through.
"The message we're trying to promote is that it's important that we behave well when we win and that we're gracious when we lose and that we act in the correct way to all the opposition players regardless of their colour. We think we have given our tickets to people who are not racist people who want to enjoy the occasion."
When England played in Skopje in 2003, the then captain David Beckham described the racist abuse as "terrible because it's something we're trying to cut out of the game", but admitted that the burning flag had "geed up" the team.
Steven Gerrard earns his 50th cap tomorrow and was described by his Liverpool team-mate Peter Crouch as "the best in the world". Crouch said: "He can do anything, you can play Steven Gerrard in any position on the pitch, there are not many who can do that."Reuse content