FA will fight Uefa charge of failing to control fans

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The Independent Football

The Football Association reacted with astonishment last night to the charge of failing to control England supporters outside the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb and is to request a personal hearing with the disciplinary committee of Uefa in an attempt to clear its name.

Both the FA and its Croatian counterparts have been indicted by European football's governing body over trouble that occurred prior to England's dismal defeat in the Euro 2008 qualifier earlier this month, when stadium officials twice closed the turnstiles leading to the visitors' section and created congestion that spilled over into angry confrontations between fans and local police.

Such alarming administration in a country bidding to co-host the 2012 European Championships has been reflected in the Uefa charge - with the Croatians accused of mishandling the entrance procedure as well as crowd misbehaviour - but the English FA is incredulous at being held culpable for the problems that followed and which also involved dozens of fans without tickets.

Officials at Soho Square have collated hundreds of eye-witness accounts of the chaotic events outside the Maksimir and will present them, if necessary, to Uefa's Control and Disciplinary Body when the case is heard at its headquarters in Nyon on 9 November.

The FA's communications director, Adrian Bevington, said: "We will go to Uefa with a very strong case and the intention to clear ourselves. The charge has come as a surprise because we do not believe the charge is justified. We will contest this and request a personal hearing and seek to call up as many witnesses as we require.

"In this instance, the Croatian officials took a decision to close the turnstiles on two occasions, which created a serious bottleneck and this has to be taken into account."

At present, a fine appears the most likely punishment - as 25 England supporters were arrested inside the stadium along with the 31 detained for incidents away from the ground - but it is within Uefa's jurisdiction to order future matches to be played behind closed doors, a worst-case scenario that the FA dares not contemplate as it finally awaits the keys to the new Wembley. It is the Croatian FA, which saw 187 home supporters arrested outside the ground, which is expected to receive the heavier penalty.

"There are a lot of options available to us, including the possibility [that] the case could be dismissed," said Uefa's spokesman, William Gaillard.

Uefa also confirmed yesterday that it is to investigate allegations from several England Under-21 players that they were racially abused during their European Championship play-off victory over Germany in Leverkusen on 10 October.

Manchester City's Micah Richards and Anton Ferdinand of West Ham United both claimed to have been subjected to racial taunts from opposition players at the BayArena.

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