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Sunday, April 20, 2003

PREMIER REPORT

Football Association hypocritical and arrogant over racism issue


LONDON -- "We are very disappointed that UEFA have felt it necessary to bring the charges against us." -- Paul Barber, director of marketing and communications, the Football Association.

Christopher Davies

There is a growing feeling that if one looked up the words "hypocrisy" and "arrogant" in the dictionary, the crest of the Football Association would be there.

The double standards shown by the F.A. are so obvious even the hear no evil, see no evil power brokers of Soho Square should realize the pot and kettle syndrome.

Last October the F.A. made an official complaint to UEFA about the racist chanting Emile Heskey and Ashley Cole were subjected to during the Euro 2004 qualifier in Slovakia.

UEFA decided Slovakia should play its next home game against Liechtenstein behind closed doors. The English F.A. was also fined £9,000 for the behavior -- or rather misbehavior -- of England supporters inside the stadium.

Yet when Turkey played England in Sunderland on April 2 and there were 105 arrests -- every one from England -- and racist abuse was chanted by the home fans, the F.A. was "disappointed" that UEFA leveled charges against it.

So it's OK for Slovakia to be brought to book for racism, but not England?

Apart from the racist taunts there were several pitch invasions at the Stadium of Light, which almost became the Stadium of Fight.

The impression is that UEFA is fed up with the loutish behavior that follows England just about everywhere.

European football's ruling body threatened to send England home from Euro 2000 if the catalog of violence continued. The Euro 2004 campaign has started as the last European Championship ended and UEFA has said "enough is enough."

Yet in many respects the F.A. seems to be in denial. Yes, they have done a fine job with the "Kick Racism out of Football" campaign and it was ironic that shortly before the Turkey match London hosted a UEFA seminar on racism.

However, the racism campaign and the racism that occurred at Sunderland are two different issues. You cannot let someone off for an offense -- because they are doing much to ensure it does not happen -- if something did happen.

Campaign or no campaign, the mindless morons who attach themselves to England -- admittedly a minority but a significant minority -- have become serial offenders.

Nobody has a worse record of hooliganism in international football than England and the suspicion is that UEFA is ready to impose what many see as the ultimate sanction -- the match against Slovakia at Middlesbrough in June is likely to be played behind closed doors.

The F.A. would be indignant because one has the impression England thinks it is untouchable. It even tried to tell Turkey in which stadium the return match this autumn should be played -- imagine the F.A.'s reaction had the Turks said: "Well, we would prefer to play you at Liverpool rather than Sunderland . . ."

It will be interesting to hear the F.A.'s version of events at the Stadium of Light when it comes to defend its case, but it may need O.J. Simpson's team of lawyers to ensure UEFA does not rule that the match against Slovakia is played behind closed doors, which would cost the F.A. millions of pounds in lost revenue through gate receipts, match day sponsorship and other lucrative deals.

It was good to see Eric Cantona in town this week to attend the awards presentation made by the Premier League marking first decade of the Premiership.

The former Manchester United striker was voted best overseas player and when asked who he would have voted for the man called Dieu by his adoring fans at Old Trafford simply replied: "Me."

Like him or loathe him Cantona had style on the pitch and charisma off it. After the 1994 F.A. Cup final against Chelsea it was put to him that it was a bit of a risk for the Frenchman to take two penalties -- many teams prefer a different player to take a second spot-kick.

"But I am Cantona," he said in a manner that ended the discussion.

Cantona had his run-ins with authority, his temper occasionally boiling over and resulting in both a red mist and a red card.

When playing in France, Cantona sought revenge on an opponent who had tackled him rather heavily. As the referee produced the yellow card Cantona said to the official: "Preparez la rouge," went over to the opponent and thumped him. Having been told to prepare the red card, the official duly produced it.

Cantona was also named to the Premier League team of the decade, though the various categories did not include an award for the most unlikely statement made to a player during the first 10 years of the Premier League.

That would surely have gone to Matthew Simmons, the spectator who was kung fu kicked by Cantona when United played at Crystal Palace on Jan. 25, 1995.

Cantona had just been sent-off for a foul on Richard Shaw and as he trudged off down the touchline, Simmons said something that made the United player react violently in Bruce Lee fashion.

Simmons, who had run down 11 rows of steps to the front of the stand, maintained all he said was: "Off you go Cantona, it's an early shower for you."

Oh, and the reason Simmons -- who had been ejected from the ground after his part in a pitch invasion the previous season -- had run down the steps was NOT to say anything to Cantona. He was on his way to the toilet and coincidentally Cantona just happened to be walking past on his way to an "early shower."

Other witnesses tended to recall that Simmons said something rather different to his version -- more along the lines of "Go away you French person, go away back to France where your mother is" only a shade more colorful.

So there you are. Who do you believe?

Matthew "early shower" Simmons or nearby spectators who could have sworn they heard . . . well, swearing?

What cannot be disputed is that after Cantona's F.A. disciplinary hearing for the "early shower" kick, he came up with one of the most famous footballing quotes of all time.

The media couldn't believe its luck when Cantona agreed to appear at a press conference. "Do you have anything to say?," he was asked.

"When the sea gulls follow the trawler," Cantona began, pausing to take a sip of water, "it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea."

Cantona then said "thank you very much" and rose to leave.

To this day people are still wondering what he meant.

Which is no doubt exactly what he meant to happen.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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