European soccer hooligans at it again SOCCER

October 06, 1992|By Phil Hersh | Phil Hersh,Chicago Tribune

It should have been a week in which soccer could revel in the official return of its prodigal and profligate son, Diego Maradona.

Instead, the sport once again is reeling from the problems with fan violence that unquestionably are the biggest concern for organizers of the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

A European Cup match last Thursday in Greece between PAOK Salonika and Paris St. Germain was abandoned at halftime after PAOK fans set seats on fire and stormed the field to protest the home team's poor play in the opening half. Ten people were injured and eight were arrested before the referee ended the game out of fear for the players' safety.

Sunday, the governing body of European soccer banned PAOK from European Cup events for two years.

Rampages before European Cup games last Tuesday in Belgium and Denmark followed a fans' attack on a Cypriot referee that led to the temporary cancellation of all league games on the island.

In the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, a Scottish soccer fan was stabbed and 32 more were arrested before Tuesday night's UEFA Cup game between Anderlecht of Belgium and Hibernians of Scotland. Rival fans fought in the streets.

In Aarhus, Denmark, 28 Swedish soccer fans and seven Danes were arrested before and after a European Cup Winners Cup match between AIK of Sweden and Aarhus of Denmark. The Swedish fans attacked passersby, damaged cars and broke shop windows.

All that makes what World Cup '94 Chairman Alan Rothenberg said a couple of weeks ago seem a little silly.

In announcing the preliminary security plans for the monthlong tournament, Rothenberg alleged that the magnitude of hooliganism affecting soccer has been exaggerated.

In Rothenberg's defense, he and the rest of the World Cup '94 organizers are treating security as their top priority.

Led by security chief Edgar Best, a former FBI agent who held the same position at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, World Cup '94 will be protected by a security effort with help from the Defense Department, the State Department, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other law enforcement agencies.

Rothenberg, a Los Angeles lawyer, said he had not read of the most recent outbreaks of hooliganism in Europe. He then clarified his earlier statements.

"We are not underestimating the problem at all," he said. "But the one thing I fear is that if anything happens during the World Cup, even if it has nothing to do with soccer, the claim will be that soccer has allowed hooliganism to spread to the United

States."

If recent experience serves, problems are most likely to occur not in the nine stadiums where matches will be played, but in city centers near them.

Most hooligans have learned that trying to take on police deployed to anticipate trouble in stadiums is foolhardy. That is why some clashes between rival fan gangs have taken place at "neutral" sites miles from the cities represented.

"A big part of our job is to educate local police in and around the nine venues," Rothenberg said. "They need to know this is a different phenomenon than what happens in the United States, where most of the problems -- drinking, fistfights -- take place in and around the stadiums."

Meanwhile, back in the stadium, Maradona showed flashes of the brilliance that had made him the world's best player until cocaine use led to a 15-month suspension that ended June 30.

Debuting Sept. 27 in Spanish League play for his new team, FC Seville, Maradona set up Seville's lone goal in a 2-1 loss at Bilbao.

Although overweight and out of shape, Maradona, 31, proved he could still work magic with his feet. His superior passing skills apparently have not been eroded by the passing of time.

Maradona played 72 of the 90 minutes on a rainy field. He was removed with a swollen ankle after being kicked by a Bilbao player.

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