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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 June, 2003, 03:20 GMT 04:20 UK
Fans pass friendly test
By Nada Grkinic
BBC Sport at the Walkers Stadium

Some cynics may say that England's 2-1 win over Serbia & Montenegro was just another meaningless friendly before the real thing against Slovakia next Wednesday.

An England banner outside the Walkers Stadium
England fans joined the FA's appeal to keep racism out of football
And the plethora of substitutions made by coach Sven-Goran Eriksson lends substantial weight to that argument.

But this game was never really going to be about high quality, entertaining football.

This friendly was a test of England's fans, to see whether they could stop booing opponents' national anthems, stop the racist chanting and violence, and restrict goal celebrations to the stands.

And the 30,000 or so England supporters passed their close examination with flying colours.

With Uefa threatening England with expulsion from Euro 2004 if there was a repeat of the ugly scenes that marred the 2-0 victory over Turkey at the Stadium of Light, the FA knew it had to get it right in Leicester.

And with another three airings of David Beckham's appeal to fans to behave before kick-off, the national anthem of Serbia & Montenegro was duly respected (just a pity that that gesture could not be afforded to Phil Neville).

This is no time for anyone, least of all the FA, to rest on their laurels
FA spokesman Adrian Bevington

A small but important act, it set the correct tone for the rest of the evening, which saw pretty much everyone singing from the same song sheet.

A leaflet was left on every seat to remind fans what was expected of them, which did not quite extend to a ban on making paper aeroplanes and throwing them on to the pitch.

Even the most loyal England supporters got bored as the game meandered to full time and so the stadium announcer was forced to make his only appeal of the match - no more planes please.

The increased police presence, with many officers working undercover to root out known troublemakers, also indicated the authorities' desire to curb the ongoing problem.

England fans at the Walkers Stadium
England fans, young and old, enjoyed the win

In Sunderland, the chants of "I'd rather be a Paki than a Turk" were clearly audible yet did not prompt any intervention from the stewards.

Thankfully, there was no repeat performance although there were a few nervous moments just before Steven Gerrard scored.

The police waded in to eject several England fans, but one can only assume that it was for foul language for there was no sign of violence or racist abuse.

So the match passed off without major incident much to the FA's relief, and the fan's behaviour earned praise from association spokesman Adrian Bevington.

"That's the way we want supporters to behave at every England game," he said.

"The anthems were respected, which was very important, and there was a very relaxed, good-humoured atmosphere throughout the day.

Bevington nevertheless added: "This is no time for anyone, least of all the FA, to rest on their laurels."

And the battle against hooliganism is far from over.

A friendly is never going to be the same as a qualifier where the stakes are much higher and the supporters' fervour much more intense.

The FA has done the right thing in refusing to take up its ticket allocation for the Turkey match and should be applauded for that.

Now it is up to the people at Soho Square to educate the uncivilised minority that violence is not the answer.

"Make love, not war, we want to go to Euro 2004" read one banner at Leicester's stadium.

Let's hope that message is heeded for the sake of Rooney, Cole et al.






ENGLAND'S SUMMER MATCHES

ENGLAND 2-1 SLOVAKIA

ENGLAND 2-1 SERBIA & M

SOUTH AFRICA 1-2 ENGLAND


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