Football Supporters’ Federation chief executive Kevin Miles believes UEFA’s stadium ban is “punishing the innocent” as England fans suffer the consequences of hosts Croatia’s behaviour.
The coastal city of Rijeka will witness a slice of history on Friday evening as the Three Lions line up in an empty ground for the first time in their history.
The Nations League clash with Croatia sees the hosts complete a stadium ban imposed by UEFA after a swastika was visible on the pitch during their Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy.
Press Association Sport revealed the ban six days after the draw in January, by which point hundreds of fans had already sorted travel for the game and Monday’s match against Spain.
“It is very sad really,” FSF chief executive Miles told Press Association Sport in Rijeka.
“While we all endorse the campaign against racism and want to see all that prejudice and bigotry stamped out of the game, the nature of this punishment against the Croatian FA is also punishing the innocent because England fans haven’t been convicted of anything like that and yet those regular supporters who travel all over the place supporting the team are now locked out of a match and not able to support them.”
As a result, there was naturally a conspicuous lack of English presence in Rijeka on Friday, with the only Three Lions crest on display belonging to Miles.
Around 500 fans have made the trip to Croatia, but the FSF chief executive would be surprised if more than 50 go onto make the two-hour journey from Zagreb to Rijeka for Friday’s game.
Still, some will make the trip undaunted and try their luck at Stadion RNK Rijeka.
“On any other day there are vantage points outside the ground from which you can see from standing on the hillside and see at least half of the pitch, possibly even more,” Miles added.
“I think there is a big question mark about whether people will actually be able to take advantage of those vantage points tonight because the police will be keeping a very tight cordon around the ground.
“Like water, England fans seem to get anywhere it is possible to get so I wouldn’t be surprised if there are one or two who get into the ground by fair means or foul but for most people it is a question of finding a decent bar and watching it on the telly.”