Atletico's ban is a nightmare for Liverpool fans as UEFA finally gets tough on racism

UEFA finally took a stand against racism yesterday but sparked a furious reaction at Anfield and in Madrid.

In a long-overdue statement of intent, European football's governing body hit Atletico Madrid with a £120,000 fine and three-match home ban after their Champions League group game with Marseille was marred by crowd trouble and racist abuse.

Their hard-line action met with widespread approval from anti-racism campaigners, with former Chelsea defender Paul Elliott hailing it as a momentous decision that could prove a significant breakthrough in the battle to protect black players from the bigots.


Bloodied: Marseille fan was injured in Madrid

But there was fury on Merseyside over the timing of the move and uproar in Madrid, where Atletico were promised the full support of the Spanish Football Federation and their government for an appeal that will be heard on Sunday.

Sources in Spain revealed that the Federation had placed their lawyers at Atletico's disposal and the government are also offering help after police were criticised by UEFA.

Should the appeal fail and Atletico be forced to find an alternative venue at least 186 miles (300km) away from their Vicente Calderon stadium, Liverpool and 5,000 travelling fans would have their plans plunged into chaos less than three days before kick-off.

The sense of dismay over UEFA's late intervention was summed up by a spokesman for fans' group Spirit of Shankly, who said: 'This is outrageous. The game in question was played two weeks ago, yet UEFA have waited until now to make a decision. It is crazy to do it now, when everyone's travel arrangements have been made.'

Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe responded to the decision by urging UEFA to allocate funds from Atletico's record fine to help travelling Liverpool supporters.

'It is great to see UEFA taking a tough stance on racism, as this is the only way we are going to kick it out of the game,' he said. 'But moving the match at this late stage will play havoc with Liverpool fans' travel plans and leave them out of pocket.

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No nonsense: Police get physical with Marseille fans in the Vicente Calderon stadium

'I would like to see UEFA use the fine to help Liverpool supporters get to the match.' Valencia's Mestalla Stadium is the likely venue should Sunday's appeal fail and there is the threat of a stadium ban for a third game should there be any similar misbehaviour in the next five years.

Atletico coach Javier Aguirre will not be allowed any contact with his team for both of the group games with Liverpool after he repeatedly swore at and insulted Marseille midfielder Mathieu Valbuena and held on to the ball to waste time at a throw-in.

Monkey chants were directed at Marseille's black players and there was abuse for black journalists in the press box. UEFA's director of communications William Gaillard remained unrepentant about the way the matter was dealt with.

'Our president made it clear there would be a zero-tolerance policy on racism and that is the message we want to put across,' he said.

'There were monkey chants towards non-white players throughout the game and a number of other problems. We also looked at the behaviour of the Spanish police.

'The attitude of the police was considered unacceptable.


Not happy: Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry

We had already warned the Spanish authorities that sometimes their police had been violent towards fans, which is not tolerable.'

Spain's Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba hit back, saying: 'I will defend the attitude of the Spanish police and hand over everything that we have available to Atletico so they can appeal against this unusual decision,'.

Liverpool have written to UEFA to express their concerns and there were suggestions the governing body may postpone the sanctions until after Wednesday.

'To say the decision is a bit late in the day is putting it mildly,' said chief executive Rick Parry.

'If the match has to be played at least 300 kilometres away from Madrid, it will cause major disruption, inconvenience and large additional expense for our fans.

'UEFA have to take that into account when they make a final decision.'