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Ally: Wolves should use Euro fan ban to their advantage

Alistair Robertson believes Wolves should use their fan ban to their advantage.

Wolves supporters will not be allowed to watch their Europa League tie at ŠK Slovan Bratislava after UEFA ruled the game, on October 24, will be played behind closed doors.

The Slovakia side’s appeal against the ruling was rejected by UEFA after racist chanting marred their Europa League play-off against Greek side PAOK FC on August 22. UEFA also fined Slovan £82,000.

Robertson captained Wolves when their fans were banned for six away games from August 1987 after serious crowd trouble at the opening-day fixture at Scarborough, almost a decade after starring for Albion in the UEFA Cup.

Fifty-six arrests were made at Scarborough after clashes between fans and police, while a food kiosk was smashed and looted.

The game had to be stopped at one point in the second half and respective managers Neil Warnock and Graham Turner came on to the pitch to appeal for calm.

One fan, Andrew Charlesworth from Huntington, Staffs, fell through the roof after some supporters climbed on top of the stand.

The ban appeared to have little effect on the team’s Fourth Division fortunes as Wolves won three and drew one of the six fixtures at which fans were excluded from.

They beat Hereford – when Steve Bull scored one of his most memorable goals – Stockport and Carlisle, drew at Peterborough and lost at Bolton.

You can look at it in two ways,” said Robertson. “On one hand, it’s sad for the fans that they can’t go to support the team.

But from the players’ perspective, it’s a case of ‘let’s prove we can win without the fans and prove that we are better than this’. That’s how you have to look at it.

It’s hard because it’s not nice to be playing in a game where you haven’t got fans cheering you on.

At the time we were winning so it was OK. It was a case of ‘come on lads, we’re not going to let this get to us’.

I would imagine if you’re at the bottom of the league it’s 10 times worse.”

Robertson believes UEFA were right to punish Slovan if the governing body is serious about eradicating racism from the game.

The former defender, now 67, played for Albion when Brendon Batson, Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis were blazing a trail for black players in this country in the late 1970s.

He recalls the abuse they received and said it made the whole team more determined to put the racists in their place.

If there have been abusive chants, that (ban) should stop them doing it,” he said.

You go back to our day at West Brom with Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson – the stick they used to get was disgraceful.

At the time, people were throwing bananas on to the pitch and making monkey chants, but we were friends and team-mates, so we tried 10 times harder on the pitch and made sure we won that game and walked off smiling.

We had the attitude of ‘we’re a team, we all stand together and we’re better than this’.”

Wolves have been followed by 1,000 fans or more to Torino and Besiktas in Europe so far.

Regarding the trip to Bratislava, Robertson believes head coach Nuno Espirito Santo should ignore the fact that their supporters won’t be there.

I don’t think you have to say anything, or bring it up – don’t mention it,” he said. “It’s a game and we have to go out there, do our best and get on with it.

It’s great to have the fans there but we have to get through it without them.”

For the Wolves game, Slovan have also been ordered to parade a banner with the words ‘#EqualGame’, with the UEFA logo on it.

The game will be broadcast live on BT Sport, but some Wolves fans are still planning on going to Bratislava, with the intention of watching the game on TV in a local bar.

The stadium, Tehelne pole, will not be empty either. New rules allow accompanied children up to the age of 14 from schools and football academies to attend behind-closed-doors matches free of charge.

Around 5,000 children watched Slovan’s last Europa home game – a 4-2 win against Besiktas – despite a behind-closed-doors sanction.

Robertson has just returned from a short holiday in southern Spain to celebrate his wedding anniversary – but he couldn’t escape football, or his ties to two Black Country teams.

On boarding the plane at Birmingham, he discovered an Albion fan sitting in front of him and a Wolves supporter behind him!