Serbian police charge England under-21 players and staff over brawl
Ugly under-21s episode could bring jail terms but FA and government set to defend accused with government to defend
The Football Association last night called in the help of the British government after Serbian police charged England Under-21 players and staff over the brawl that took place following the game between the two countries junior sides on 16 October.
The England players and staff have not yet been named by Serb police in the town of Krusevac but the FA is taking it so seriously it has called for diplomatic help from the government and asked Uefa to intervene in the dispute which shows no sign yet of calming. On the night there was racial abuse of England's black players at the end of the game, including Danny Rose, who was sent off.
The process in Serbia is that the decision on whether to pursue the charges is not down to the courts and sources in Serbia said last night that it was unlikely they would be pursued further. The decision by police is thought to have been taken to send a message to those, especially fans, who go to football grounds to cause violence.
Nevertheless, the FA, which has threatened since the European championship qualifier not to send teams to Serbia again, released a strongly-worded statement last night supporting its players and staff. The names of the players have not been divulged even to the governing body and, as of last night, were not a matter of public record in Serbia.
The FA said: "We have not been made aware of any of the names of individuals connected with these charges and we therefore await further details and formal communication on these matters.
"Meanwhile we are in contact with the British Government for advice, as well as speaking with our colleagues at Uefa. The FA reiterates its position of full support for all players and staff caught up in the appalling scenes in Serbia two weeks ago.
"We want to reassure those concerned that we are committed to doing everything necessary to protect them whilst also offering support to individuals and their families.
In all, two English players and two assistant coaches from Stuart Pearce's staff have been charged with "committing an act of violence during a sports event" as well as a further five Serb players and three coaches. The Serb police have also charged Serb fans at the game who lit smoke flares.
During the post-match brawl, Rose made an obscene gesture at the Serb fans, although he said he did so in response to their racist chanting. The goalkeepers coach Martin Thomas was butted and assistant head coach Steve Wigley was kicked in the stomach.
The incident already has a political dimension with Prime Minister David Cameron commenting upon it. The investigation was ordered by Serbia's Prime Minister, Ivica Dacic and it is now inevitable that there will be some diplomatic intervention before the row escalates.
The case is due to be heard by Uefa's control and disciplinary body on 22 November. Both countries have been charged by the governing body for their players' part in the brawl.
England won the game 1-0 to win the tie 2-0 on aggregate. Tension between the two benches over the two legs finally spilled over at the final whistle. The Serbian football association had hoped it had got control over the racist chanting of fans after a full international against Belgium last month passed off without incident.
On the Serbian fan, Rose said at the time: "They have to be banned. The fans started the monkey chanting straight away. In the second half I had two stones hit me on the head when I went to get the ball for a throw-in. Every time I touched the ball there was monkey chanting again.
"After 60 minutes my mind wasn't really on the game after that. I was just so angry and it was just so hard to concentrate. After 90 minutes' worth of abuse I just expressed my emotions as soon as we scored. Then the next thing I know all the Serbia players have run over and were all surrounding me, pushing me and a brawl broke out."
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