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Saturday, May 26, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Treatment of Liverpool fans result of actions back home


LONDON — The police baton-charged "blameless" fans who could not gain entry to the stadium despite having valid tickets, while many inside the ground were allowed in with forgeries.

Christopher Davies

The trouble, of course, was the fault of the authorities, police and UEFA, but not the supporters.

Sound familiar?

The scene this time was the Olympic stadium in Athens for the Champions League final between AC Milan and Liverpool.

The common factor in the latest finger-pointing by fans is that it always seems to be English supporters.

I have defended Manchester United fans particularly against the excesses of French police, but trouble such as we saw again in the Greek capital only involves fans traveling from England.

Yes, UEFA should have made the tickets for the final far harder to forge.

Yes, both clubs should have been allocated more than 17,000 tickets each in a stadium that held 74,000 — many of the tickets that found their way on to the black market were from the 40,000 "neutrals."

Yes, the security checks (there were reports of some fans getting in with train tickets) should have been far more vigilant.

And it is only to be expected that supporters will go to extremes to watch their team in European club football's biggest match.

Yet just as hooliganism was called the "English Disease" the problems witnessed in Athens are also made in England.

Ticket touts or scalpers, call them what you like, are primarily from these shores and while such dark practices will never be eliminated, there must be a method to minimize the black market for both genuine tickets and forgeries.

There were stories of Liverpool fans stealing tickets from each other — one supporter on crutches after a hip replacement operation had his genuine ticket stolen by a fellow Liverpudlian.

UEFA had no sympathy for Liverpool supporters and spokesman William Gaillard said: "The behavior of the Liverpool fans was responsible for the problems that took place before the game. They made it extremely difficult for the police who didn't want to use brutal methods and they have to be praised for that.

"There were so many fake tickets around as we warned but this was all done in Britain. The Milan supporters didn't face the same problems because they didn't behave in the same way.

"The kind of pushing that was going on and the attempts to jump over barriers — imagine if we had turnstiles, we could have had a tragedy. More than three hours before the game there were incidents at the Liverpool end with people trying to get in either with fake tickets or jumping over the barriers.

"I am very sorry for what happened to fans who had regular tickets, but at the same time there is a collective responsibility in terms of behavior."

The game was a far cry from the final in 2005, which Liverpool won on penalties after a 3-3 draw.

Milan won 2-1 and had only one shot on target, Filippo Inzahgi's second goal in the 82nd minute.

His first was a deflection from Andrea Pirlo's 42nd minute free-kick which the striker tried to make us believe was pre-planned.

Champions of Europe after one shot on target eight minutes before the end — an unconvincing way to win, but that did not bother Milan, which gained revenge for losing a three-goal lead two years ago.

Dirk Kuyt's 89th-minute goal ensured a nail-biting ending but Liverpool has only itself to blame for losing.

It played better than in Istanbul two years ago while Milan played worse.

Liverpool made Milan seem ordinary for long periods but lacked the killer touch and Lady Luck.

Manager Rafael Benitez will use the transfer funds made available by new American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett to make Liverpool genuine contenders to win the Premiership.

The Spaniard has fared better in Europe than in English football but next season should see the Reds give Manchester United and Chelsea a better run for its money.

SAYING CHELSEA is boring is becoming as tedious as watching the team play, but the ammunition is still supplied regularly.

An F.A. Cup final that for long periods made Saturday afternoon shopping an attractive proposition was won by Chelsea in its specialty way — soaking up Manchester United pressure and scoring a late goal.

Chelsea did what it does better than anyone and it works consistently.

It was the 25th time this season it has scored in the final 10 minutes of a match.

As United's dejected players left the Wembley pitch, after Didier Drogba's strike four minutes before the end of extra-time gave Chelsea a domestic cup double, manager Jose Mourinho held up six fingers to the Blues supporters.

Six trophies in three years (he may be stretching it a little by including the Community Shield in his list of accomplishments) is his stock answer to accusations that given the vast amount of money invested in the team it should raise the pulse more.

To Mourinho, winning is the ultimate entertainment — who wants to be an attractive loser?

No one, but being an attractive winner is better than success by strangulation, though Mourinho isn't prepared to take that risk. His way works, end of story.

He is paid to bring trophies to Chelsea and he's done that regularly since arriving from FC Porto in 2004.

It is whether billionaire owner Roman Abramovich wants more for his money than trophies that is crucial.

Chelsea can smother opponents — it squeezed the life out of United — and does whatever it takes to win. It usually achieves this and if the outside world is not excited in the process, tough.

Mourinho sticks to his principles, just as Arsene Wenger does at Arsenal, but potentially the most fluent side in the Premiership is not a serial winner like Chelsea.

Before the final Mourinho asked his players: "Do you want to enjoy the game or do you want to enjoy after the game?"

In other words, do you want to contribute to a memorable match or do you want to win?

Most of us enjoyed after the game more, too.

Mourinho said: "You must control your opponent. You must have a minimum of six players behind the ball so that if you lose possession you have six players to stop them"

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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