Empty stands for Eng­land a re­minder foot­ball should be for the fans

Kuwait Times - - Sports -

RI­JEKA: “Foot­ball without fans is noth­ing,” Celtic’s Eu­ro­pean Cup-win­ning man­ager Jock Stein fa­mously opined many years ago. If a re­minder of Stein’s com­ment was re­quired, it came dur­ing Eng­land’s 0-0 draw in Croa­tia, that did nei­ther side’s chances of pro­gress­ing in the Na­tions League much good.

A goal­less draw was fit­ting of an empty ex­pe­ri­ence with sup­port­ers shut out of the 8,000 ca­pac­ity HNK Ri­jeka sta­dium, perched on a hill­top over­look­ing the Adriatic Sea. Croa­tia were com­plet­ing a UEFA sanc­tion to play two matches be­hind closed doors af­ter a swastika sym­bol was carved into the pitch dur­ing a Euro 2016 qual­i­fier against Italy over three years ago.

It was just the lat­est in a litany of of­fences for racism that has seen Croa­tia con­sis­tently pun­ished with fans banned for home matches. How­ever, amid the eeri­ness of hear­ing play­ers shake hands be­fore kick-off and shout in­struc­tions dur­ing the game, the ques­tion was raised whether the pun­ish­ment fits the crime.

“The at­mo­sphere is not easy for any­body, it is sad for foot­ball but hope­fully this is our last time,” said Croa­tia man­ager Zlatko Dalic. “Foot­ball is played for the fans. It’s sad the sec­ond and fourth team from the World Cup are play­ing be­hind closed doors. I don’t know who it is good for.”

Croa­tia fin­ished run­ners-up to World Cup win­ners France while Eng­land lost to Bel­gium in the third place play-off. A small band of in­trepid Eng­land fans did man­age to find a nearby hill to catch a glimpse of the Three Li­ons.

“I could hear the noise,” said Eng­land boss Gareth South­gate. “It is a shame for the sup­port­ers, some of whom haven’t missed a game for 10 years or more.” Re­vers­ing fix­tures so the per­pe­tra­tors are pun­ished with los­ing home ad­van­tage or even mov­ing games to a neu­tral venue have been of­fered as al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions. “While we all en­dorse the cam­paign against racism and want to see all that prej­u­dice and big­otry stamped out of the game, the na­ture of this pun­ish­ment against the Croa­t­ian FA is also pun­ish­ing the in­no­cent,” said Kevin Miles, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Foot­ball Sup­port­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion in Eng­land.

“Be­cause Eng­land fans haven’t been con­victed of any­thing like that and yet those reg­u­lar sup­port­ers who travel all over the place sup­port­ing the team are now locked out of a match and not able to sup­port them.”

How­ever, even back in Eng­land, the soul­less­ness of see­ing the na­tional team play in front of empty stands should be a re­minder of the im­por­tance of not sac­ri­fic­ing sup­port­ers who at­tend games for in­creased cash rev­enue from tele­vi­sion deals.

On the same day sup­port­ers were shut out in Croa­tia, the Pre­mier League re­vealed their TV sched­ule for the Christ­mas and New Year pe­riod that will see only four days without a match in the fort­night be­tween De­cem­ber 21 and Jan­uary 3.

UEFA them­selves have been ac­cused of pri­ori­tis­ing TV for their new com­pe­ti­tion with the Na­tions League adopt­ing the “week of foot­ball”. By spread­ing matches across six days, many games are taken away from their for­mer week­end sweet spot to at­tract crowds. Eng­land next travel to Spain for a 2045 (1845GMT) kick-off to­mor­row night. The foot­ball au­thor­i­ties would be well ad­vised to re­mem­ber the game “without fans is noth­ing.” — AFP

RI­JEKA: Eng­land’s for­ward Harry Kane (R) vies with Croa­tia’s mid­fielder Luka Mo­dric dur­ing the UEFA Na­tions League foot­ball match be­tween Croa­tia and Eng­land at Ru­je­vica sta­dium in Ri­jeka, on Fri­day.—AFP

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