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REF DEATH THREATS; Swiss whistler goes into hiding after hate campaign in England.

Byline: By Janice Burns

DEATH threats from England fans have forced Euro 2004 referee Urs Meier into hiding.

The Swiss whistler is under police guard at a safe house in his homeland after being made a scapegoat for England's failure in Portugal.

Hesaid:'I'm taking these threats very seriously. It really is a big shock for me.

'I'm not afraid for my own life, but I am afraid of what might happen to my loved ones.

'This is not the right way to handle referees' decisions, whether they are right or wrong.

'I always thought the spirit of fair play was important in England, with respect for officials.'

Meier became a hate figure when he disallowed a 'goal' by Sol Campbell that the English believe would have given them victory over Portugal and a place in last night's semi-final.

He received more than 16,000 emails, many of them abusive or threatening, after English tabloids revealed his website address.

The address was also broadcast on ITN and Sky News.

One tabloid invited fans to 'let rip' at Meier, a father of two, and branded him a 'half-wit'.

Then it went further, tracking down the address of his house and planting a huge English flag in his garden. Papers published the addresses of Meier's home and office, and revealed that his marriage had failed after he had an affair with a young female referee.

Abusive stories and images of Meier appeared on scores of English websites. One produced a poster claiming he was 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'.

Supermarket chain ASDA jumped on the bandwagon by offering Swiss citizens free eye tests.

And a group of MPs, led by Scots Labour member Bill Tynan, have tabled a Commons motion criticising 'refereeing decisions during a number of matches'.

Swiss police advised Meier to go into hiding after the death threats. He told a Swiss newspaper: 'I'm not going to leave Switzerland but I am somewhere where nobody knows me.

'I'm absolutely shocked by the media campaign against me and the attacks from the supporters.

'The decision to disallow the goal was 100 per cent correct and the whole world could see that.

'After the game I had a good feeling. I'm sure all the players and coaches were happy with my refereeing.

'It was a fantastic game the best in the tournament. But at the moment I have a sour taste in my mouth.

'Some of the fans are really overheated now and it isn't right that newspapers should invade a person's private life in this way.

'That's totally unacceptable. They are trying to destroy me.

'I like English football and the people in England.I spent my holidays there last year and I know not all the people are the same.

'I hope that after the Euro,they forget and I have my private life back.'

Euro 2004 organisers UEFA have backed Meier's decision to disallow Campbell's 'goal'. And the world's best referee, Italian Pierluigi Collina, called on fans to lay off his friend.

Collina said: 'The difference between the public figure and the private person should be respected.'

CAPTION(S):

THREAT: Police guard Meier's home, above, while an English internet site made a wanted poster; ON THE SPOT: Players protest
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:539
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