A shame? No, it was an utter disgrace

Friday, October 19, 2012
9:53 AM

It’s a real shame, according to England Under-21s manager Stuart Pearce after the shocking scenes at the end of his team’s match in Serbia on Tuesday evening.

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Four days after Norfolk fans behaved in exactly the sort of manner that should befit any football match, anywhere in the world, some of the fans inside the Mladost Stadium in Krusevac helped contribute towards some of the most unbecoming scenes the national game will witness.

That Serbia’s players appeared to have joined in as well simply adds to the feeling of disbelief at what unfolded.

The treatment of young England footballers, as well as some of the coaching staff, was virtually prehistoric.

Either Pearce was doing an excellent job of keeping a cool head while others lost theirs and refusing to inflame as situation which, unbelievably, could have become even more dangerous for England, or he hadn’t quite grasped the seriousness of the situation.

I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say the former, because to say “it’s a real shame” goes nowhere near to describing what happened.

No one really expects the man they used to call Psycho because of his penchant for taking out opposition players at the waist with a scything tackle powered by thighs like tree trunks, to have piled in to the Serbian players and given them a bit of what for. But what I would have expected is a response that better illustrated the events and, presumably, the fury that his players felt.

His assistant, Steve Wigley, was set upon by Serbian players and escorted away towards the tunnel in some sort of east European death grip. There were Serbian hands and fists heading for English faces and more than one home player is seen dishing out kicks.

These are the same young men who were in the HMV store in Norwich last Thursday playing Fifa 13, looking all the world like the normal blokes they should be.

But, in front of their home ‘supporters’ their behaviour changed. England led the play-off tie 1-0 following the Carrow Road game last Friday and put the outcome beyond all doubt with a goal in the dying seconds of Tuesday’s game. Clearly, a crowd that had been at the height of its expectation level just moments afterwards as they swarmed around the England penalty area couldn’t cope with the rapid emotional change brought about by the sudden breakaway that left Connor Wickham with an empty net in which to score.

From hope to despair in a matter of seconds. The fans turned their anger to what is most natural (for them): England. And if there is a black player, so much the better. There was: Danny Rose, who had been subject to racist taunting by way of monkey noises.

Rose, in his anger, kicked a ball into the stands and then mimicked the fans by gesturing with his hand under his armpits. For that show of defiance against something that is illegal, he was sent off. I don’t recall the referee showing a card to any other players, despite the violence which was breaking out everywhere.

So what now?

Clearly, Uefa must act. Of that there is no question. If they don’t take drastic action then there is no point in their existence.

But for those waiting for a 10-year ban for Serbia, don’t hold your breath.

Serbia have already been warned by Uefa president Michel Platini because of persistent crowd trouble last year, but European football’s governing body doesn’t have a great record when it comes to disciplinary matters. They were close to creating “Spanish law” because of their leniency towards a nation which had broken the rules and got away with it. They proved at the European Championships that they believe showing off a rival sponsor’s logo to be more serious than racist abuse.

Serbia have, bizarrely, blamed young Danny Rose for what happened. Staggering.

The only way to deal with them is to ban them from competitions outside their own country while demanding that their leading football officials and supporter representatives attend anti racism courses at which they can learn not just how to conduct themselves in public, but teach their disgraceful supporters and players to do the same.