Everton fans to face away ban over racism

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The Independent Online

Everton announced yesterday that they will stop selling tickets to their own fans for away matches if any of the club's travelling support persist with racist or otherwise abusive behaviour.

Everton announced yesterday that they will stop selling tickets to their own fans for away matches if any of the club's travelling support persist with racist or otherwise abusive behaviour.

There were particularly bad outbreaks of racist chanting at the away games at Leicester, on 24 November, and at Fulham, last weekend. In other recent games, Everton supporters have been heard chanting about the health problems of Liverpool's manager, Gérard Houllier, and about the Anfield club's England striker, Emile Heskey.

Leicester confirmed last night they have made a formal complaint to Everton about the racist conduct of their fans at last month's game. Fulham said that no official complaint has been made but certain incidents are being investigated. The Football Association is also looking into what happened at the Fulham match, not least an on-pitch brawl and several cases of bottle-throwing.

"We have been inundated with complaints from our decent fans about incidents that occurred at Fulham last weekend," said a spokesman for Everton, who appointed their first black captain, Kevin Campbell, this season. "To show just how seriously we take those complaints, the board and the manager, Walter Smith, have joined together to issue a joint statement aimed at stopping such incidents happening again."

The statement added: "During the game against Fulham two bottles were thrown onto the pitch and, for the second time in a matter of a few weeks, racist chants could be heard emanating from our section of the crowd. The foul-mouthed and dishonourable actions of what we know to be a very small minority has once again called into question the integrity of a club which has always sought to promote the virtues of fair play, honour and equal opportunity.

"Quite simply, there is no place for either racism or violence at Everton and we shall do everything within our power to root out the culprits. We shall take strong and decisive action in order to ensure that the name of our club is not blackened by the reckless actions of people who have no place amongst our support. We feel so strongly about this that if necessary we shall even consider halting the sale of tickets for our away fixtures – a drastic step which we are desperate to avoid, but one which may provide an unpalatable solution to a problem which cannot be ignored and which must be addressed."

Everton will only resort to not selling tickets to away games if other measures fail to eradicate the problem in the next few weeks. The club will be posting a personal letter to every single person who has bought a ticket for an away match this season, asking for their support on the matter and warning that racist abuse will not be tolerated. Extra stewards, police and "spotters", all paid for by Everton, will be accompanying travelling fans to identify the guilty. Life bans from the club are also being threatened for anyone who is caught.

Such measures are likely to have the support of most Everton fans, who have complained in numbers to both the club and the anti-racism Kick It Out campaign office about the behaviour of their fellow travellers at the Fulham match. Their views were typified by one supporter, who wrote and told the club he was "sickened by the torrent of filth that assailed my ears." He said he heard racist songs aimed at Heskey, sick chants about Markus Babbel's illness, and "a stream of racial abuse directed at Fulham's coterie of black players".

A spokesman for the Kick It Out campaign said that Everton have done "good work" to stop racist behaviour. "But essentially the problem has never completely gone away [from the game as a whole]. Even in the Premiership, where is there is a lot of regulation in this area, CCTV, and a high standard of stewarding, you can still have problems with away fans."

The spokesman added that there have been "a number of outbursts" of racist behaviour by fans this season, including incidents at Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham, both of which were drawn to Kick It Out's attention. Everton's threatened sanctions were welcomed as a clear sign that the club are serious about tackling the issue.

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