United await UEFA ruling

 

MANCHESTER UNITED are all set for a visit to the Westfalenstadion, home of Borussia Dortmund in the heart of the Ruhr, in the semi finals of the Champions' League. The matches will be played on April 9th and 23rd and all United are waiting for is word from UEFA today on who will play the first leg at home.

Should United overcome Borussia Dortmund, they may well play Juventus (who meet Ajax in the semi finals) in the final in Munich on May 28th.

What a night of conflicting emotions that would be. Memories of the Munich air crash which destroyed Matte Busby's young Manchester United side in 1958 and of the deaths of 39 Juventus supporters in the Heysel disaster when a wall collapsed as they fled from Liverpool fans before the 1985 European Cup final, would provide a poignant sub text.

It would be a profound pity, therefore, if Manchester United's achievement, in becoming the first English club to reach the last four of Europe's most prestigious club tournament since then, was to be overshadowed by what happened outside the stadium in Oporto before and after Wednesday's night's game.

The violent scenes which ensued as Portuguese police baton charged United supporters and later used tear gas and rubber and plastic bullets on them were real enough, but can hardly be equated with the excesses of the 1970s and 1980s.

Having acted wisely in deciding to let almost everyone, even those who are alleged to have had forged tickets, into a stadium barely two thirds full, the police then appear to have overreacted when some fans became angry at finding turnstiles closed. The constabulary claims it was provoked.

After the game, the United supporters were instructed to stay inside the stadium for 45 minutes. Some tried to find their way to the exits and were met by tear gas and bullets. One fan was detained in hospital with a bullet lodged in his head.

Without wishing to diminish the seriousness of what happened, it is important to keep a sense of proportion. Some 10,000 Manchester United supporters made their way to Oporto. Before the game there was one arrest.

In the previous two decades, this would have been an oasis of relative calm. Certainly it was not a re run of St Etienne in 1977, when poor crowd segregation led to a fracas between United supporters and the locals, with the French riot squads wading in as only they know how. As a result of that incident, United had to play the home leg on a neutral ground in this case Home Park, Plymouth.

UEFA, European football's governing body, will decide next Tuesday what action to take against Porto and Manchester United following receipt of FAI official Des Casey's report on the incident. Casey was UEFA's official delegate at the match.

From a footballing point of view, Wednesday night went well for Manchester United - a 4-0 win on aggregate and they avoided picking up more yellow cards. Borussia Dortmund, in contrast, have lost their sweeper, Matthias Sammer, for the opening leg of the semi finals. He received his second booking.

Manager Alex Ferguson now faces a problem of fixture congestion. United's Premier League match at home to Newcastle on April 23rd will have to be rearranged and they are already faced with having to play three games in the last nine days of the season as they attempt to win their fourth championship in five seasons.

But with over £10 million already banked from the Champions League and the possibility of much more to come, it is a difficulty, one suspects, that Old Trafford will somehow manage to grin and bear.