Lennon condemns racist taunts by Yugoslav fans

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The Independent Football

While the Leicester City chairman, John Elsom, attempted to look forward following the racism and rioting which formed an ugly backdrop to Thursday's Uefa Cup exit against Red Star Belgrade in neutral Vienna, one of the club's senior players called for action over the "disgraceful" behaviour of the Yugoslav fans.

While the Leicester City chairman, John Elsom, attempted to look forward following the racism and rioting which formed an ugly backdrop to Thursday's Uefa Cup exit against Red Star Belgrade in neutral Vienna, one of the club's senior players called for action over the "disgraceful" behaviour of the Yugoslav fans.

Neil Lennon, the Northern Ireland international, condemned the relentless taunting of his black colleagues, Andrew Impey and Ade Akinbiyi, by Red Star supporters fuelled by alcohol and an apparent desire to recreate the Kosovo conflict. The goalkeeper, Tim Flowers, described the abuse as "a throwback to 20 years ago".

Lennon also revealed the Leicester players' anxiety about the safety of their families. Red Star followers, who had attacked Leicester fans with iron bars and bottles in the city centre, hurled flares into the stand where the Premiership side's supporters were housed.

Referring to the "monkey" grunting whenever Impey or Akinbiyi touched the ball, the midfielder said: "That was disgraceful and I really hope the club do something about it. There's no place for that in football. I've never heard anything as bad though I know it also happened to Emile Heskey with England Under-21s. The two lads never mentioned it but I'm sure it hurt them deeply."

Lennon added: "As we were warming up, we could see there was trouble and the flares were worrying. We saw them landing among our supporters and when you've got family up there you're obviously concerned."

However, Elsom said Leicester would not be lodging a complaint to Uefa. Perhaps mindful that a small minority of Leicester's outnumbered supporters had also acted aggressively, he preferred to leave the governing body of European football to study the report of its Dutch match delegate, Cees de Bruin, before deciding what penalties, if any, to impose.

Pressed about the intimidating atmosphere, De Bruin said: "You saw what happened out there and that's what will be in my report."

Elsom expressed "optimism" that Uefa would act of its own accord. "I don't think we'll be making an official protest. We are all rather tired of this match. We just want to get on with our lives and concentrate on staying up at the top of the League."

Elsom, who went on to the pitch before the game to appeal for calm, added: "With the exception of about 50 just before the start, our fans behaved admirably in the face of serious provocation. There was a Uefa observer present so there is no real need for us to protest. I understand he has very little criticism of our supporters, if any, though it has been conveyed to me that he was very critical of some of theirs.

"We are two nationalities and behave in different ways, but that doesn't mean we have to accept some of the things that happened. The racism was deplorable. Our manager, Peter Taylor, said the two players were very professional and got on with the job, but it must have been hurtful."

Elsom concluded: "[English] football has worked hard to kick out racism and Leicester have been particularly successful. It therefore seems more shocking when we encounter it."

Leicester, whose last European adventure - against Atletico Madrid in 1997 - also ended abruptly, paid heavily for two misses by Darren Eadie after they had recovered from Goran Drulic's early goal to level through Muzzy Izzet.

Drulic created Red Star's second goal and scored the third as the Yugoslav champions vindicated the claim of their coach, Slavo Muslin, that they were technically superior. But the manner in which their resentment over the switching of the match from Belgrade was manifested off the pitch is likely to provoke a substantial fine.

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