Row grows over Dublin date

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The Independent Online
The fragile relationship between the Football Association and the Premier League has been placed under further strain by a row over the rescheduling of the international between England and the Republic of Ireland. Yesterday, a new date - 22 May - was pencilled in for the ill-fated Dublin game, which was abandoned last month amid scenes of violence.

The League, which is demanding more power in the running of the sport, is furious that it was not consulted about the original fixture. Some club chairmen are also angry that the match was arranged at a time of acute political sensitivity between the two countries - aside from the fact that it presented the first opportunity in 15 months for an England hooligans' away-day.

Two Premiership chairmen, Doug Ellis of Aston Villa and Robert Chase of Norwich, as well as Keith Wiseman, a Southampton director, sit on the FA's international committee. Earlier this season they were kept in the dark while the game was being planned behind the scenes. The League has asked its three representatives to make its protests known.

The lite clubs say it is another reason why the powerbase of English football is in the wrong hands. One chairman, who did not want to be named, said it should have been clear that the Lansdowne Road meeting was the wrong fixture at the wrong time, with peace talks between Westminster and Dublin about to reach a conclusion.

"The potential for trouble should have been obvious to anyone who looked into this particular game," he said. "We are talking about putting at risk players worth millions of pounds. Football has welcomed the new chairmen like Sir John Hall, with their fortunes to invest in new talent and new stadiums, and they deserve to have a greater say and more consideration. If we had been consulted, we would have advised that the game did not take place."

Hall, the Newcastle chairman, has accused the FA of being "amateurs running a professional game" (generating a £300m turnover in the Premiership alone), and threatened to wrest control from it if the clubs were not granted power-sharing.

His Chelsea counterpart, Ken Bates, has accused the FA of being "out of its depth and unable to stamp its authority", and said the time for sweeping change was "now or never".

The England date was the first since the new League's inception to fall outside the list of scheduled international days laid down by Fifa. For this season's four midweek dates, the Premier League administrators agreed to keep their fixture list blank for the preceding Saturdays.

The news that Terry Venables and Jack Charlton were working towards a February fixture was given to League officials for "information". While accepting they have no power to block international games, they say it should have been a matter for "consultation". Their observations - more accurately their opposition - were presented to the FA but to no avail.

Officially, the complaint from the League was that having given up four Saturdays, it did not want to lose another week where clubs might be looking to rearrange League matches postponed because of the weather or by cup commitments. In addition, the Dublin game clashed with the first Coca- Cola Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Crystal Palace.

The League says that by proceeding with the original fixture, relations between two bodies who share the same Lancaster Gate headquarters can only deteriorate further. It has no objection, however, to a rearranged date of 22 May, as that falls after the end of the Premiership season.

The first game was abandoned after 27 minutes, when hooligans masquerading as England fans began raining wooden planks, stakes and other missiles on supporters in the lower tier. The FA says there is no question that a return will go ahead unless it is to the satisfaction of the security forces.

"We must be sure that any lessons that needed to be learned have been learned and will be put into operation," the FA's director of public affairs, David Davies, said.

The FA has finalised its inquiry into what went wrong, and will shortly discuss its conclusions with Downing Street. It agrees with Venables and Charlton that a strong message needs to be relayed to the thugs. "It is important that the flotsam and jetsam of our society should not be seen to have succeeded in ruining a football match," Davies added.

Charlton says that lessons have been learned on the other side of the Irish Sea, and has promised that the forces of law and order will be much tougher next time.

"We know mistakes were made. Everybody blamed everybody else, but to me they were just a bunch of lunatics," the Republic manager said. "We tried to keep a low profile and probably that was the mistake - not treating them as hard as the Belgians did with the Chelsea fans on Tuesday."

The end of May is the favoured date for a new game between the countries because neither England nor the Republic have an international that month. Sean Connolly, the chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, said confirmation awaited "deep consultations" with the Gardai in Dublin and the English police, as well as with the Irish Rugby Football Union, who own Lansdowne Road.