There weren’t too many positives for Fabio Capello to take out of England’s insipid display in Sevilla last week. The Three Lions went down with barely a whimper as they were taught a Spanish master class in possession football by the technically superior European champions in Andalusia, but was it really necessary to shift the friendly match from Madrid?
All eyes, or ears, were on the crowd, rather than the pitch at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, and for once it wasn’t the travelling English fans under scrutiny.
Four years ago in Madrid when England were defeated 1-0 in a friendly match at the Bernabeu Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips were subjected to monkey chants from the home supporters, and the Spanish Football Association were fined a paltry £44,750, or half of Fernando Torres’ weekly wage packet at Liverpool.
It was scene mirrored in Zagreb during England’s monumental 4-1 win against Croatia, and again a ridiculous fine of just £15,000 was dolled out to the hosts; that worked out at around 15 pence per spectator. UEFA and FIFA talk a good game, but for all their tough rhetoric on tackling racism, little has been done and indubitably a change of tact is needed.
It’s something the Football Association clearly agree with. They vetoed their Spanish counterparts hosting the game in the capital, in a misguided attempt to defend the players from potential racist chanting.
It was almost like sweeping the issue under the carpet. No one wants to see anyone racially abused, whatever their skin colour or creed, but shifting the game from where the offence occurred four years ago is hardly the correct attitude. Of course, it’s not certain any abuse would have been aimed at any players in the England squad had the tie gone ahead in Madrid.
Maybe if any offence had of occurred it would have been the proverbial kick up the backside FIFA and UEFA need.
Matthew Upson was present in both Madrid and Sevilla, and said “I remember the racist chanting and it was not very pleasant. If we have to get a game moved because of the racist environment then we will. It is a positive step towards stamping it out.”
But would a move actually deter fans? Racism isn’t a problem specific to Madrid, after all.
Moving the game was almost a nod to the fact racism still exists, and hasn’t been sufficiently dealt with. It’s a bit like being too scared to use the London Underground in case there’s another terrorist attack.
There’s no certainty any chanting would’ve occurred in Madrid, but a walk-off by England’s players in the cauldron of the Bernabeu in the face of monkey chants would’ve spoken volumes, and sent a clear message to the footballing authorities that not enough is being done to combat racism.
UEFA’s spokesman, William Gaillard, however, said that by leaving the pitch it would set an unhealthy precedent, where players could walk off at the drop of a hat. “We would not condone such behaviour for the very simple reason it could lead to all sorts of abuse,” he stated.
“I don’t think we should advise this kind of behaviour for merely technical reasons, because we would have hundreds of cases in which players could walk off the pitch and say ‘I heard someone shouting something’.”
Has that happened in the past though? Vociferous chants of “you’re shit and you know you are” reverberating around stadiums up and down the country have yet to provoke a walk off, nor are they ever likely to.
It’s a bit like dealing with the symptoms rather than the cause.
Of course, the fans will follow the team wherever, and by moving it to a smaller stadium was potentially a ruinous decision. The popular Spanish sports newspaper Marca quoted a police source as saying: “many people won’t get to see it. There are concerns people will be here without tickets, that trouble could take place on the streets.”
Teams need to be hit where it hurts, and that’s not in the back pocket. Football is a multi billion pound business and issuing paltry fines of a few thousand has almost no impact on racism at any level. Arguably this can only be achieved by making a big gesture, like a points deduction or teams being excluded from competitions.
When a tough stance towards English football violence was taken by UEFA in the aftermath of the tragic Heysel Stadium Disaster, it brought clubs a five-year ban from European competitions and indubitably it was the catalyst in the country to deal with the problem.
Thankfully events on the pitch, and David Beckham’s 108th appearance in an England shirt that equalled Bobby Moore’s record for an outfield player, took centre stage, and weren’t overshadowed by events off it.