Spanish FA apologises for fans' racist chants

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The Independent Online

As the Football Association yesterday received a formal apology from the Spanish FA for the racist abuse directed at England players during Wednesday's "friendly", Liverpool's Spanish manager, Rafael Benitez, condemned the activities of those who had taken part.

As the Football Association yesterday received a formal apology from the Spanish FA for the racist abuse directed at England players during Wednesday's "friendly", Liverpool's Spanish manager, Rafael Benitez, condemned the activities of those who had taken part.

The FA made formal complaints on Thursday to Fifa and Uefa, football's world and European governing bodies, and to the Spanish FA, following the monkey noises and racist chants aimed particularly at Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole.

In a letter received by the FA yesterday, Jorge Arias, the general secretary of the Spanish FA, condemned the behaviour of the supporters responsible and emphasised his country's stance against racism.

The FA said: "The FA welcomes the response and now looks forward to receiving details from Fifa on its investigation initiated yesterday. There will be no further comment from the FA at this time."

Fifa has vowed to rid football of the "scourge" of racism and now has an opportunity to prove it means what it says, perhaps by forcing Spain to play one or more games behind closed doors. A fine is also an option, although fines in such circumstances - always handed out by Uefa - have been trifling.

The record fine for racism-related crowd misbehaviour was the £70,000 penalty handed to the English FA for trouble at last year's Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey in Sunderland.

Benitez said that he condemned racism "in all walks of society", but added that "it would be a big mistake to keep giving small groups like this publicity."

"This is not normal in Spain. Maybe I heard this once in three years in La Liga. It is up to the government and Fifa to do something about it... I want to let it be known that we should do all we can to stop it happening again."

Wright-Phillips' club manager, Kevin Keegan, said yesterday that he was confident his player's performance would not be affected when Manchester City play at Portsmouth today.

"Shaun got the sort of abuse I never thought I would see again in football," Keegan said. "All the players had a good attitude [despite the abuse] but having a good attitude is one thing and feeling good inside is another - it's what is inside that counts and only Shaun, Ashley Cole and Jermaine Jenas can answer that. I don't think it will have any effect on Shaun's football, certainly not in England which is the only thing we have any control over.

"Shaun is a very, very good person but that goes out of the window when you are playing football. What happened on Wednesday wasn't against Shaun's personality, it was against his colour, which is the frightening thing." Keegan had to cast his mind back to his playing days with Southampton to recall an episode that left him so appalled. "I was playing for Southampton at Chelsea in 1980 and Danny Wallace, who was 17 at the time, was abused," recalled Keegan. "It would have been laughable, if it had not been so disgraceful."

Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, similarly condemned Wednesday's events but insisted that he would not encourage players to leave the pitch in protest. "The only thing that we can show against this kind of stupid problem in Spain is unity and strength throughout the whole football world," he said.

"Some people think you should walk off the pitch. But I'm completely against that as I feel, first of all, that makes people who are stupid win. If there are 50,000 people there and 5,000 of them behave in a stupid way, there are still 45,000 others who are behaving in a normal way. We still have a responsibility towards those people."

Sir Alex Ferguson, meanwhile, on the subject of leaving the pitch, said: "It's a difficult one that. Maybe it was one for the referee."

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