The FA Cup semi-final replay between Crystal Palace and Manchester United will go ahead at Villa Park tomorrow night. This is despite fears that the death of a Crystal Palace fan before Sunday's drawn match could lead to further outbreaks of violence.
Paul Nixon, 35, of New Addington, south London, died after falling under the wheels of a coach after Palace fans were attacked by United supporters outside a Walsall public house eight miles from Villa Park.
The Football Association considered delaying, or moving, the replay, but the police advised that the game should be played. Their decision is thought to be based on a belief that the longer the gap between the matches, the greater the likelihood that any trouble will be planned, rather than spontaneous.
Clive Roche, Assistant Chief Constable of the West Midlands police, said: "The match has to be played sometime. It is best it is played sooner rather than later." An FA statement condemned the violence, paid its respects to the deceased, and asserted: "It was nothing to do with supporting any team."
Unfortunately that does not appear to be the case, the catalyst being abuse over Eric Cantona's assault on a Palace supporter in January. It may not have been premeditated hooliganism, but there remain a number of football supporters ready to resort to violence at the slightest provocation.
The decision means Crystal Palace's match with Blackburn Rovers, originally scheduled for tonight, is now likely to take place on Thursday 20 April. This will hamper the England get-together which is due to run from that day to Saturday - when there are no Premiership fixtures.
Terry Venables, who already expected to be without David Seaman, Tony Adams and, probably, David Platt (Arsenal meet Sampdoria in the European Cup-Winners' Cup that night), must now do without the four Blackburn squad regulars.
Tim Flowers is among the quartet and with Nigel Martyn also involved in the semi-final - or recovering from a broken finger - David James, of Liverpool, may receive his first call-up while Ian Walker, of Tottenham, becomes the senior goalkeeper.
One player who will look forward to the get-together with renewed enthusiasm is Warren Barton. The Wimbledon defender is to receive a cap - his first - for playing in the abandoned match with the Republic of Ireland. The sport's world governing body, Fifa, believing the February match would be replayed, had struck the game from its records but it will now count.
That game, of course, was abandoned because of hooliganism. Which seems to be where we came in. With scuffles also marring the end of Sunday's other semi-final the game desperately needs a trouble-free evening tomorrow.
n George Graham, the former Arsenal manager, has asked for a personal hearing after being charged by the FA over the "bung" allegations against him.Reuse content