On a night filled with controversy, accusation, and a lack of common sense, it would appear far too easy to write off the events that took place on that Tuesday evening as simply a night to forget for English International football.
On one hand, Adrian Chiles and the rest of the commentary team at ITV pondered in amusement at the events unfolding before them as torrential rain in Warsaw caused the game to be initially delayed, and then cancelled even though the stadium had a roof. Whilst in Serbia, England’s Under 21’s progressed into Euro 2013 in the midst of chaotic scenes after the final whistle. Racism, violence and a red card for England’s Danny Rose for reacting to taunts from the fans, cast a shadow over England’s 2-0 aggregate win and highlighted the problems that still exist within world football.
One of a number of questions racing through the media this Wednesday morning was simple. How did a stadium with a roof get to the stage where the game had to be called off due to rain? It was only after the pitch became unplayable that officials began to question why the roof was not closed to start with. By that point, it was too late and the game was never going to take place. One would imagine that nothing else could go wrong that night. However, those who thought that would be proved wrong.
After scoring a winning goal in the dying embers of the qualifying tournament for the Euro championships in 2013, English football was given a fearful reminder of the state of its own game back in the 1980’s and how far it has come since that period. Shocking images of pitch invasions, offensive chanting and Serbian players confronting England’s players have arguably shown the world that there is still crucial work to be done in addressing the recurrent problem of racism and violence in world football.
Whilst both of these incidents were an embarrassment to international football, the various PR implications are vast. Support for international football is already experiencing a slump, with average home crowds at Wembley down, and the media choosing to paint the senior team in an unflattering way in light of their disappointing performances in previous years. It will now be up to the FA to reach out to the football community alongside UEFA and FIFA and find a way to resolve the recurrence of racism in football as well as problems with managing and protecting future fixtures from the comical scenes witnessed in Warsaw. It would also seem that Crisis PR and reputation management will almost certainly be explored by both the Polish and Serbian FA to address what has happened and to rebuild their global image.
Time and time again the English FA and other football governing bodies, in particular FIFA, have looked to have been strained. However, it would seem that this time PR surrounding English football will remain positive, with English international football quite rightly the victim in these two incidents.
In contrast, football’s governing bodies FIFA and UEFA will need the very best PR consultancy to improve their bruised public and media image. They will also need to be seen to take significant steps to ensure that what was witnessed on Tuesday evening in Serbia and Poland will not happen again.