FA red-faced as Liverpool Champions' League row turns farcical

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The Independent Football

The Football Association was last night facing major embarrassment over the decision not to award Liverpool a Champions' League place next season if they win the European Cup, when it was revealed that the governing body had broken its own guidelines.

Yesterday, on a recommendation from the Professional Game Board, the FA ruled that the fourth Champions' League place would go to the club that finishes fourth in the Premiership despite an advisory on their website that said the opposite.

Liverpool's unexpected progress to the European Cup final against Milan on 25 May had left the FA in the unenviable position of having to decide whether, in the event of them winning the trophy, Liverpool would be given the opportunity to defend it. The decision was made even more emotive by Everton's current position in fourth place - three points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand - and Uefa's refusal to give an unprecedented fifth place.

Under pressure to make a decision before the end of the season, the FA finally ruled yesterday that the team finishing fourth in the Premiership would be given the chance to play in the Champions' League next season. However within hours, The Independent discovered a page on the FA's official website, thefa.com, that ruled that the winners of the European Cup would take the qualifying place even if they finished outside the top four.

The page, that was dated 10 March, 2004, is likely to cause great frustration at the FA who had made every effort to be as fair as possible after both Uefa and the Premier League handed them such a difficult decision. The website explanation which is headed "The Road to Europe: we clear up for you how the European places are awarded" refers to Arsenal and Chelsea's meeting in the semi-final last year.

The page reads: "Should Arsenal or Chelsea win the Champions' League they will automatically qualify for next season's competition but England will not get an extra Champions' League place even if they finish outside the top four in the Premiership. In that scenario the fourth placed team in the Premiership will play in next season's Uefa Cup." Earlier the decision by the FA came after a recommendation by the Professional Game Board, a sub-committee of the main board which is made up of football club chairmen and the Premier League chairman, Dave Richards. The recommendation that it should be the fourth place team in the Premiership that is rewarded with the last Champions' League place was unanimous.

Those involved in making the decision were the Southampton chairman Rupert Lowe, the Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein, Colchester's chairman Peter Heard and Ipswich's David Sheepshanks. The Bolton Wanderers chairman, Phil Gartside, who is also on the PGB was not at the meeting.

It is understood that the mood of the board was that teams who had set out at the start of the season to qualify for the Champions' League on the proviso that fourth place would earn them a place should not find themselves denied by a quirk of fate.

Liverpool's visit to Istanbul for the European Cup final will involve the biggest-ever security operation mounted by Uefa in 49 years of European club competition, the governing body revealed yesterday.

With more supporters than the club's 20,000 ticket allocation can accommodate expected to travel to the Turkish capital, and the memory of the two Leeds supporters killed in Istanbul in April 2000 still fresh, plans are in place to keep rival fans isolated from each other.

While Uefa acknowledges that there is no history of animosity between Liverpool and Milan supporters they have decided to take no chances in managing the movement of supporters around Istanbul. The majority, who are expected to arrive on the day of the match, will arrive at separate airports in the city - one on the European side of the Bosphorus river, the other on the Asian side - and be kept apart.

A Uefa spokesman William Gaillard said that the event would be the "most important, complex operation we [Uefa] have ever staged [for club football]", but he defended the capability of Istanbul to host the final. There are understood to be misgivings within the Liverpool club hierarchy about the advisability of holding the final in a city that has a history of football violence.

In order to allay fears about the possibility of clashes between supporters and locals, like those five years ago which resulted in the deaths of two Leeds fans before a Uefa Cup match against Galatasaray, Uefa have set up completely separate facilities for supporters. Fans will be taken directly from the airport to sites outside the city centre where those with tickets will be provided with buses to take them to the stadium.