UEFA apologises to Liverpool fans for Atletico switch as governing body finally gets tough with racists

UEFA have admitted Liverpool fans face major disruption next week after their Champions League match against Atletico Madrid was switched to a neutral venue.  

Atletico have been fined £120,000 for racist abuse of Marseille players and handed a three-match stadium ban after crowd trouble and lack of organisation at the same match.  

Liverpool have expressed strong concerns over the timing of the decision but UEFA defended the move saying there was "no alternative" and have pledged to minimise problems for the 3,000 fans who have already booked a trip.  

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Fernando Torres

No return home: Fernando Torres scores Liverpool's second goal at Manchester City

The match cannot take place within 300 kilometres of Madrid under UEFA's ruling, but there are further problems in that Atletico are set to appeal against the punishment, and a final decision will not be known until the weekend.  

UEFA communications director William Gaillard said: "We are in touch with Liverpool because we are concerned about the fans.  

"We know they face hardship and disruption and we sympathise with that, but we needed to punish Atletico Madrid. We have no alternative.  

"What would people have said if Liverpool went there and the players and fans suffered the same treatment?  

Marseille fan

Bloody battle: A bleeding Marseille fan stands beside Spanish policeman

"We know how sensitive the British public are about racism and violence - and rightly so.  

"This is to protect Liverpool fans too - the police were harsh and violent against peaceful fans during the Marseille game and do we want the same story as that, or as happened to the Tottenham fans in Seville last year?"  

Gaillard said they were already talking to the club about moving charter flights and UEFA would help in any way they could.  

"We are looking at the logistics and seeing what help we can provide," he added.   Liverpool have written to UEFA over the timing of the decision.  

"To say the decision is a bit late in the day is to put it mildly," said chief executive Rick Parry. 

"We have 3,000 fans going to the game and we are extremely concerned for our supporters, the vast majority of whom have already made travel arrangements.  

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Enlarge   Marseille and Atletico Madrid riot

Scrapping in the stand: Madrid police try to calm fans down after violence breaks out between Marseille and Atletico Madrid supporters


Atletico Madrid fans get behind their team but racist chanting by some of them has been punished by UEFA

"If the match is played at least 300 kilometres from Madrid, it will cause major disruption, inconvenience and large additional expense for our fans.  

"UEFA have to take their needs into account when making a final decision on the game."  

Liverpool fans have also criticised the short notice.  

A spokesman for the fans' group Spirit of Shankly said: "This is outrageous - this game was played two weeks ago and UEFA have waited until now to make a decision. 

"It's crazy to do this now when everyone's travel plans have been booked."  

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Trouble: Atletico and Marseille fans come to blows during their Champions League clash

The row has overshadowed a significant moment in football's campaign against racism - this was UEFA's toughest action for racist behaviour.  

Atletico coach Javier Aguirre has also been banned for his club's home and away fixtures against Liverpool for insulting Marseille player Mathieu Valbuena.  

Atletico were found guilty of a lack of organisation that led to a number of serious problems. Visiting fans were "victimised" by police, according to UEFA, and no police escort was provided for the team coach to and from the stadium - it was attacked by 'ultras' from the Spanish club.  

Furthermore, black journalists in the press area were racially insulted by Atletico fans and no provision was made for disabled supporters who had bought tickets.  

Monkey chants were then aimed at Marseille's black players, and Atletico coach Aguirre repeatedly swore at Valbuena, calling him 'a son of a whore' and other insults, and then held onto the ball to waste time at a throw-in.  

Anti-racism campaigners have praised UEFA with former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott, ambassador for European campaigners FARE, saying: "This is a momentous decision. 

"I and other leading players in the game - black and white - fully support the actions that UEFA have taken."  

Lord Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out, added: "The leadership that UEFA has demonstrated through these sanctions sends out a message that is loud and clear - racism will not be tolerated."

fans have blasted UEFA's decision to force the Reds' to play their away Champions League tie with Atletico Madrid at a neutral venue.

The Spanish club have been hit with a stadium ban and fined £120,000 for racist abuse of Marseille players earlier this month and handed a three-match stadium ban after crowd trouble and lack of organisation at the same match.

Liverpool have complained at the "disruption" caused to their fans by the decision to move next week's game from Madrid.