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England fans' final test

Since the deplorable behaviour of a minority of 'fans' during England's 2-0 Euro 2004 qualifying win over Turkey in April, the pressure has mounted on the team and the FA to help curb the hooligans' undesirable antics.

The authorities must now subdue the Neanderthal few for Wednesday's Euro 2004 qualifier with Slovakia and avoid a repeat of the scenes in Sunderland or face the inflated threat of being thrown out of the European Championships.

A combination of on-pitch celebrations and racist chanting by England supporters against Turkey resulted in a record £70,000 fine for the FA and a stern warning of intolerance from UEFA that effectively put the fans on trial and England's future in doubt.

The FA feared that a repeat performance would cause UEFA to deal the devastating, but unlikely, blow of booting the national team out of a major competition and it became crucial that England supporters behaved impeccably for an end of season triple header against South Africa, Serbia & Montenegro and Slovakia.

England's friendly match against South Africa - used by the hosts to showcase their 2010 World Cup bid - went off without a hitch in Durban and both sets of fans continued their celebrations into the early hours after England's 2-1 triumph.

Next up was a friendly clash with Serbia and Montenegro, formerly part of Yugoslavia, on home soil and the FA proved worried enough to talk talismanic England skipper David Beckham into making a TV appeal on BBC1, ITV and Sky for the fans to behave.

'It shouldn't happen. If it does again we will be thrown out of Euro 2004,' Beckham said.

The public address by Golden Balls himself helped things go relatively smoothly at newly promoted Leicester City's ground on Tuesday, despite the FA's concerns regarding the visitor's problematic past.

During Euro 2000 the Yugoslav Soccer federation were fined £48,500 after a fan ran on the field and attacked French referee Gilles Veissiere, while another threw a coin which struck him above the eye, after Spain made a dramatic comeback to win 4-3.

Following that incident veteran international Sinisa Mihajlovic landed himself in trouble with UEFA after racially abusing Arsenal's Patrick Vieira in the Champions League. Club side Red Star Belgrade were fined £16,000 after their fans hurled flares at Leicester supporters and shouted racist abuse.

Despite these blights on the game a friendly at Leicester City's Walker's Stadium - a match that saw four different England captains, 43 different players and was just four days before Serbia & Montenegro's Euro 2004 qualifying clash with Finland - was never going to prove a big problem.

The Serbia & Montenegro national anthem was politely clapped and the only thing that the PA announcer reprimanded the fans for was for making paper airplanes out of the FA's anti-racism leaflets. A castigation that was greeted by a cheekily defiant deluge of the newly prohibited aircraft.

The FA were 'cautiously optimistic' regarding the fans future behaviour after the match but the clash lacked the competitive edge that evokes emotive, and sometimes undesirable, responses and neither set of fans have any real animosity towards each other.

Riverside Stadium, venue for England v Slovakia
Riverside Stadium, venue for England v Slovakia

In Turkey, however, it's another story. English and Turkish clubs have had an uneasy relationship for many years which horrifically culminated with the stabbing to death of two Leeds fans following a UEFA Cup semi-final clash in 2000.

It was this history of friction that was used as a distorted excuse in the minds of some for the unacceptable actions at Sunderland's Stadium of Light.

The FA are now on their toes because Wednesday's Euro 2004 qualifying clash with Slovakia also has a recent past and threatens retaliation - if somewhat less fatalistic.

When the two sides met in Bratislavia, October 2002, England's Emile Heskey was subjected to the worst racist abuse of his career. Then England fans, two of whom had been shot the night before by policeman who now face charges of assault, then provoked the Slovakian police into a baton charge and rained down missiles on them.

Consequently UEFA hit the English FA with a £9,000 fine and slapped the Slovakian FA (SFZ) with a hefty £27,000 penalty and forced them to play their subsequent Euro 2004 qualifier against Liechtenstein behind closed doors - they won 4-0.

England will return to the North East, scene of the trouble against Turkey, to host the Slovakians and the FA will be hoping the good example set by the Leicester contingent will transfer itself to Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium.

If the authorities successfully manage to suppress the hooligan element it would go along way to quashing the possibility of England being ejected from Euro 2004.

The FA have already opted to withdraw tickets for England's trip to Turkey in October, for safety reasons, and will meet in Soho Square to discuss taking similar action for the national team's trip to Skopje, Macedonia, where there is a large Turkish population.

That would leave only one Euro 2004 qualifying match against Group Seven whipping boys Liechtenstein, who share the same tune for their national anthem, at home to successfully negotiate.

All the England team have to do then is qualify.

  • If you have any thoughts you can email Dominic Raynor.