Uefa, the governing body of European football, are prepared to expel English clubs as well as the national team from their competitions if supporters cause any further trouble in the next 12 months. That would have calamitous consequences for clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle, who are hoping to make millions from the Champions' League.
England are already on a final warning after incidents in Slovakia and at the home game against Turkey in April. It was feared that Uefa would order next week's qualifier against Slovakia at Middlesbrough to be played behind closed doors, but the Football Association were let off with a fine of £68,000 and a warning after volunteering to take no tickets for the return match with the Turks in October.
Patience is clearly running thin, and now Uefa's chief executive, Gerhard Aigner, has warned: "If we were to take a decision against the national team, that could affect the clubs as well. That is a last resort if the executive committee feel a protective wall has to be put up against a phenomenon we can't control."
The economic consequences were minimal when English clubs were banned after Heysel in 1985 compared to what clubs would suffer now that the Champions' League has become so lucrative: last season United made £25.7 million from it.
In view of Aigner's comments, it is all the more timely that England's captain, David Beckham, has recorded a message to be broadcast ahead of Tuesday's friendly against Serbia and Montenegro, appealing to supporters to behave themselves.
Beckham says: "We're working hard as players to reach the finals of this competition and hopefully our fans are not going to spoil it. Respect has got to be shown to the opposition with the national anthem. Racism, violence and people jumping on the pitch has got to be put out of our game. You know it's going to get us into a lot of trouble. We've been warned already and we don't want to face elimination."
Paul Barber, the FA's director of marketing and communications, said that he hoped Beckham's message and the FA's campaign against racist and violent behaviour would act as "a wake-up call" to "a too-large minority of people" who have tarnished England's reputation.
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