England to play Italy in front of 2,000 children after Euro 2020 chaos

What a difference a year makes: England forced to play with just 2,000 schoolchildren watching under ’embarrassing’ sanction for fans’ behaviour at last year’s Euro 2020 final

  • Gareth Southgate’s side will play in front of a crowd of just 2,000 children at 32,000-seater Molineux tonight
  • It is punishment by UEFA after behaviour of England fans outside Wembley stadium at last year’s Euro 2020
  • Three Lions fans attempted to storm Wembley Stadium before England’s final match against Italy last year
  • Follow LIVE text coverage of tonight’s game by following MailOnline’s live blog – CLICK HERE to see the blog 

England are preparing to kick-off their game of shame in front of a near empty stadium tonight – following last year’s ugly scenes in which Three Lions fans attempt to storm Wembley.

Gareth Southgate’s side will play in front of a crowd of just 2,000 – mostly schoolchildren – at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ 32,000-seater Molineux stadium as punishment for the behaviour of fans in last year’s Euro 2020 final.

Ironically perhaps, England’s opponents in tonight’s UEFA Nations League game will be the same team that beat them in that final – Italy.

In that game – now 11 months ago – what could have been a famous night under the arches at Wembley ended in a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat.

And that pain was further compounded by the behaviour of some England fans, who brought shame on the country before the match kicked off by attempting to storm the national stadium.

An independent report later condemned organisers for failing to prepare for a worst case scenario and police for arriving too slowly once the alarm was raised.

As punishment, UEFA imposed a two-match ban, one suspended, against the FA for England Men’s home matches.

Ahead of tonight’s match, England manager Southgate described it as an ’embarrassment’ for the country that the Three Lions will play in a near-empty stadium at Molineux. 

There will be around 2,000 people in attendance, largely made up of under-14 school children who, under UEFA rules are allowed free admission to fixtures played behind closed doors.

‘If it is an embarrassment, it is for England as a country,’ he told a pre-match press conference.

‘A lot of the people that caused the problems I’m not certain were football fans. We spoke enough about it, we spoke about it after the final and when the punishment was first given.

Gareth Southgate’s side will play in front of 2,000 schoolchildren at Wolverhampton Wanderer’s 32,000 seater Molineux stadium tonight as punishment for fans behaviour in last year’s Euro 2020 final. Pictured: Fans outside the stadium ahead of tonight’s game

What could have been a famous night under the arches at Wembley ended in a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat. And the pain of defeat was further compounded by the behaviour of some England fans, who before the match brought shame on the country by attempting to storm the national stadium. Pictures show how gates were pushed over by England fans ahead of last year’s Euro 2020 final defeat at Wembley

England manager Southgate described it as an ’embarrassment’ for the country that the Three Lions will face Italy in a near-empty stadium at Molineux (pictured)

There will be around 3,000 people in attendance, largely made up of under-14 school children who, under UEFA rules are allowed free admission to fixtures played behind closed doors

England boss Gareth Southgate admits the fact his side are playing in a near-empty stadium against Italy is ’embarrassment’

‘What I will say is the vast majority of our fans who travelled to Germany (England’s most recent game) behaved brilliantly. A big thank you to them because maybe people were thinking something different but there were a huge majority who were a credit.’

The ugly scenes at Wembley saw fans fight with stewards and police as they attempted to storm the national stadium ahead of the Euro 2020 final.

Hundreds managed to get in without tickets following the stampede – which saw authorities overwhelmed ahead of kick-off.

A review into the disorder, carried out by Baroness Casey, found as many as 2,000 people got into the stadium without a ticket – with 17 mass breaches of the stadium.

The report said there was a ‘collective failure’ in planning for the match. She said ‘ticketless, drunken and drugged-up thugs’ could have caused death as they stormed the stadium.

Following the crowd trouble at last year’s Euro 2020 final, the European football’s governing body UEFA imposed a two punishments last October.

Kids from Rodborough Youth Football Club in the stands before the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton

Kids from Rodborough Youth Football Club in the stands before the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton

Italian fans look on as their team’s coach arrives ahead of the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton

The Italy coach arrives ahead of the UEFA Nations League match at the Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton

A picture showing a closed turnstile at Molineux ahead of tonight’s game between England and Italy at the stadium. The game is being played in front of 2,000 fans as punishment for the behaviour of supporters last year at the Euro 2020 final

It included a two-game stadium ban – though one was suspended for two years providing there is no more trouble at upcoming games. England’s governing body, The Football Association (FA), was also fined £84,560 (100,000 euros).

The punishment is the first time in the FA’s history that England have been forced to play a home match behind closed doors as a result of sanctions.

Despite these four Nations League Group A3 fixtures coming at the end of a long season, Southgate maintains any of his fit players are capable of playing against Italy – although he did hint at making changes from the 1-1 draw in Munich.

‘There is nobody we can’t use,’ he added. ‘We have got to think about some things we have got to see, the freshness of the team as well.

‘I think this is a good game for some of the other players to come into. It is a top-level game and is a good sign to show trust towards the players going into these games.

England will Italy at Molineux in a repeat of their Euro 2020 final, which they lost on penalties 

‘I think if we only give players certain types of matches, you don’t find out enough about them and they don’t find out enough about the tactical challenge.’

Phil Foden remains a doubt as he recovers from coronavirus, while Kalvin Phillips trained away from the group after suffering a dead leg in Germany.

The battle against booze is now the crusade against COCAINE… nearly a year on from the shocking scenes at the Euro 2020 final, England still has a huge fight on its hands to tackle hooliganism – SPECIAL REPORT

A special report by Sami Mokbel for SportsMail 

The repercussions of what transpired on July 11 last year continue to reverberate.

What was supposed to be the biggest celebration in English football for 55 years was instead a day of unadulterated carnage outside Wembley Stadium.

Thousands of unruly hooligans brought shame on the nation ahead of the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy.

The two countries clash again on Saturday in a Nations League fixture that will be played in front of an empty Molineux as part of UEFA’s punishment given to the Football Association for their role in failing to prevent the violence at last year’s showpiece.

Here, Sportsmail highlights the issues English football is having to overcome in the aftermath of that fateful day…

The repercussions of the scenes before the Euro 2020 final at Wembley are still being felt

Crowd trouble and hooliganism was rife before, during and after the match against Italy

CONCOCTION OF BOOZE AND COCAINE

En route to England v Andorra at Wembley on September 5, 2021, one FA official couldn’t believe their eyes. ‘I was driving up to the stadium when I saw one fan with an England flag draped across his back pull a small object out a plastic bag before snorting whatever the contents were up his nose.

‘He then looked behind him and called his friend over, who did the same. They weren’t hiding it, they were doing it in full view.’

That recollection will sound familiar to many of those caught in the disgraceful scenes outside Wembley before the Euros final.

Cocaine has become prominent among match-going England fans in recent years

Cocaine is replacing alcohol as the vice of choice for match-going fans. ‘You get the same buzz from one bit of cocaine than you would from five or six pints,’ said one well-placed security chief.

The battle against booze is now the crusade against cocaine; the horrific scenes at the Euros final have thrust the problem of recreational drug use to the top of the agenda for football authorities.

NEW GENERATION OF HOOLIGAN

Perhaps the most prominent takeaway from that depressing day is the emergence of a new wave of football hooligan.

English football has been somewhat successful in eradicating the violence that ruined the game during the 1970s and 1980s.

But hooliganism is rearing its head again — last summer’s violence merely highlighted the issue.

The sheer number of people involved in the pre-match chaos highlighted the scale of the issue

A report concluded that there was a collective failure to plan for the worst-case scenario

The authorities have responded accordingly. Security measures have been bolstered: Wembley Way has become an alcohol-free zone on match day and the police and stewarding presence has been bolstered significantly.

Many at Wembley ahead of the final felt there was an insufficient police presence outside the stadium before kick-off, and Baroness Casey’s report into the trouble concluded that there was a collective failure to plan for the worst-case scenario and that police arrived too late.

Yet, there is a feeling among those in charge of security that day that the sheer number of people — believed to be around 250,000 — coupled with the fact that a significant number of them arrived with criminal intentions, made trouble impossible to prevent.

POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FA

In the days immediately after the Wembley havoc, one FA source told Sportsmail: ‘We were at our lowest ebb. It was devastating.’

The sentiment is understandable: it was almost the perfect tournament for English football.

The unruly scenes and disorder had political implications for the FA, who at the time were leading a UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup

Then, the next day, UEFA executives were meeting with their counterparts at the FA to survey the wreckage of the previous evening’s events.

There was major relief that nobody had been killed and that an inquiry — which was confirmed a week later — into the carnage would be carried out.

The discussions were kept private, but there was a view held by many at the FA that UEFA were looking to absolve themselves of blame, even though they were the chief stakeholder of the tournament.

Wembley Way has become an alcohol-free zone on match day following the final trouble

That irked certain individuals at the FA given that UEFA ran the match and security operations.

But at the time, the FA were leading a UK and Ireland bid to host the 2030 World Cup and believed they had a good chance of winning.

UEFA, though, had other plans: a joint Spain and Portugal bid was the preferred option for many at European football’s top table.

Sources claim that although the violence at the final didn’t directly end the UK and Ireland’s bid, it made Spain and Portugal an even more popular choice.

HOW SOUTHGATE’S HUMILITY HELPED

We shouldn’t underestimate how Gareth Southgate helped ease ill-feeling towards the FA.

Historically, the English governing body aren’t well-liked by their counterparts and viewed as self-entitled and arrogant.

In recent years, they have worked hard to improve international relations and Southgate has become one of the organisation’s most effective messengers.

When the England manager was asked about the prospect of racial abuse from Hungary fans last September he made reference to the fact that English football has hardly been a paradigm of good behaviour recently, saying: ‘We still don’t know what the outcome of the investigation into our final is going to be.

Gareth Southgate helped ease ill-feeling towards the FA in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final

‘Maybe we end up with a stadium ban. We shouldn’t look elsewhere until our own house is in order.’

Southgate’s remarks caused a stir across Europe. Never before had a representative of English football been so open in shining a spotlight on its own failings.

At the time the FA feared a three-match stadium ban and requested a hearing with UEFA in the hope of reducing the punishment. In the end it was a one-game ban.

FUTURE EVENTS AT WEMBLEY

Despite the shameful scenes last year, Wembley will remain one of football’s global hubs.

Even after all of the chaos that day, the 2024 Champions League final will remain at the stadium. Furthermore, the national stadium recently held ‘Finalissima’ between Argentina and Italy.

And although the UK and Ireland bid for the 2030 World Cup is no more, an English-led bid is the overwhelming favourite to host Euro 2028 instead.

UEFA recorded huge financial losses during Covid, and the fact that England have the infrastructure and ability to sell out stadiums is clearly not forgotten.

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