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FOOTBALL: Arsenal keeper speaks up for under-fire coach.

Byline: MIKE McGRATH

ARSENAL goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has added to the Luis Aragones row by defending the Spain coach.

Aragones was fined after being captured on camera making racist remarks to Thierry Henry's Gunners team-mate Jose Antonio Reyes in October last year.

He compounded that by launching into a tirade about the excesses of Britain's colonial past 24 hours before Spain played England in Madrid in a game which was marred by constant racist abuse hurled at England's black players by a substantial portion of the Spanish crowd.

But Almunia, who arrived at Highbury from Celta Vigo in the summer, insists Aragones is not a racist, and criticised Spanish authorities for the punishment.

'This has all gone too far and on top of everything we all know Luis Aragones,' he said.

'He is a strong personality that only tries to motivate his players, but a racist? Never. They have fined him 3,000 euros (pounds 2,060)? I do not understand this.'

Anti-racism campaigners have called for Aragones to be sacked, arguing the same would happen if an England manager made racist comments.

'Kick It Out' did not want to make a comment but have already stated their outrage at Aragones' punishment. 'Our position has been made clear and we stick by our reaction,' an official spokesman said.

Aragones, 66, dug himself deeper when attempting to justify his remark, by referring to Reyes as 'a gypsy
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Mar 4, 2005
Words:236
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