LONDON (AP) - England called off Wednesday’s soccer exhibition against the Netherlands because of concerns about player safety amid the wave of rioting and looting across London.
The Football Association made the decision Tuesday after talks with the British government and the Metropolitan Police, who struggled to contain a third night of unrest in the British capital.
“There were certain concerns about the protection of players on both sides with the travel in coaches,” said FA chairman David Bernstein, who added he believed this is the first time an England match has been canceled because of such circumstances. “We have to put safety and security matters first. I am very sad indeed. This is the only thing we could have done.”
An exhibition was called off between Ghana and Nigeria on Tuesday in Watford, which is 20 miles northwest of London.A statement on the Watford Football Club website said the match had been canceled on the advice of local police, which “advised the club that they will not be able to police the fixture.”
London’s police force has struggled to contain the spiraling violence across the city, but are preparing to have 16,000 officers on the streets to stop the violence.
“We do not need the additional burden of a crowd of 80,000 people on our streets tomorrow night,” a police statement said. “Every officer on duty must be deployed to protect life, our communities and properties.”
About 70,000 tickets had already been sold for the match in the north London, which was abandoned before the Dutch team flew to England on Tuesday morning.
“We will remain in the Netherlands,” Dutch football association spokeswoman Monique Kessel said. “It’s a shame.”
The cost of the tickets will be refunded, said Bernstein, who added that any losses could be regained by rearranging the match for next year.
“Money is not the issue. There are much more important issues,” he said. “We will look at money and insurance issues further down the way.”
The England squad watched Bernstein address the media at the team hotel north of London. England team managing director Adrian Bevington said, who sat alongside Bernstein at the news conference, spoke for the team.
“On behalf of the squad we would like to say that we are disappointed that tomorrow’s game will be called off, but obviously we understand the reasons behind the decision and we support it,” Bevington said. “We’ve all seen the terrible pictures on the television and the most important thing at this time is the safety of the fans and the general public.
“At this time the whole squad would like to appeal for calm and an end to the disorder which has been ongoing.”
Groups of young people rampaged for a third straight night in London on Monday, setting buildings, vehicles and garbage dumps alight, looting stores and pelting police officers with bottles and fireworks.
In the Peckham district of south London where England defender Rio Ferdinand grew up, a building was set ablaze along with a bus _ which was not carrying passengers. Onlookers described the scene as resembling a conflict zone.
“Who wants to see a game of football when our country is in turmoil,” Ferdinand wrote on Twitter while watching the violence unfold on television at the England team hotel.
Ferdinand also described the escalating violence as “madness” and questioned whether soldiers should be put on the streets.
“I can’t tell the youths exactly what to do but stealing tv’s + trainers+burning innocent peoples houses+shops aint solving nothing at all,” Ferdinand wrote.
England teammate Wayne Rooney appealed for an end to the violence.
“These riots are nuts why would people do this to there (sic) own country. Own city,” the striker wrote on Twitter. “This is embarrassing for our country. Stop please.”
Netherlands forward Rafael van der Vaart also expressed his sadness.
“Too bad the game against England has been canceled…was looking forward to it, Wembley,” the Tottenham player tweeted. “Terrible for London what’s happening there now.”
The violence first broke out late Saturday around Tottenham, a low-income district in north London where outraged protesters demonstrated against the fatal police shooting of man who was gunned down in disputed circumstances on Thursday.
Tottenham’s soccer club is working to make sure that its Premier League opener against Everton on Saturday can go still go ahead despite damage to a ticket office at White Hart Lane.
Four League Cup matches scheduled for Tuesday have already been called off. West Ham, which was to host Aldershot, said police told the east London club that “all major public events in London were to be rearranged.”
In south London, Charlton’s match against Reading and Crystal Palace’s fixture against Crawley also were postponed.
The clashes with police also spread beyond London for the first time on Monday night, leading to Bristol City’s League Cup match against Swindon being called off.
Follow Rob Harris at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarrisUK