English make final unfortunately, so do their rowdy fans

Clash with Roman police at soccer match shows that reforms have failed

October 13, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- For England, the good news is its soccer team is headed to next year's World Cup finals in France.

The bad news is, so are the English fans.

England held Italy to a scoreless draw Saturday night to reach the World Cup for the first time in eight years.

But the pivotal qualifying game in Rome was marred by clashes in the stands, as English fans engaged in a pitched battle with about 200 baton-wielding Italian policemen.

Twenty-three English fans were arrested before and after the match, according to a British Embassy spokeswoman in Rome.

Another 2,000 English fans were reportedly kept in the stadium under police guard for up to three hours after the final whistle.

And one English fan was hospitalized in critical condition after being stabbed in the groin during an incident near a subway station early yesterday morning.

British soccer officials said yesterday that blame for the violence should be shouldered by Italian police and soccer authorities.

They claimed that the police overreacted after English and Italian fans engaged in small-scale skirmishes during the first half.

Some English fans were seated in a section with Italians. In Europe, rival fans are usually separated, often by fences.

Italians blamed

David Mellor, head of a British government task force on soccer, said: "The Italians should be ashamed of themselves for the manner in which they reacted.

"Swinging their batons, bashing people while they were on the ground, that was not the behavior of a civilized police force," Mellor told the British Broadcasting Corp.

But Rome's police chief, Rino Monaco, defended his squad's tactics.

"The incidents were the result of repeated attempts by the hooligans, all of them under the influence of alcohol, to break through the police cordons," Monaco said, according to Britain's Press Association.

"The baton charges successfully lightened the pressures, more serious incidents were avoided, and the situation remained calm," said Monaco.

The police chief said 8,000 English fans were expected at the match, but nearly 16,000 showed up.

For years, England's soccer fans have cultivated a violent reputation. In 1985, at Heysel Stadium in Belgium, 39 fans, mostly Italians, were killed after an attack triggered by Liverpool spectators.

Benches were thrown

Two years ago in Dublin, a so-called "friendly" match between England and Ireland was stopped after English fans hurled benches at Irish supporters.

In 1996, England staged a mostly peaceful European Soccer championship. But after England lost in the semifinals to Germany, a small group of English fans went on a rampage through London.

The British have clamped down on much of the fan violence, though. In recent years, they upgraded their stadiums and increased security with elaborate video surveillance to track known troublemakers.

"We did have problems with fans in the '80s and '90s, but English football [soccer] has taken massive steps since then and we will continue to live up to the standards we have set," said Graham Kelly, head of England's Football Association.

But newspapers in Rome and London lambasted the behavior of the English fans.

'Strong tattoos'

Il Messaggero wrote that English fans had sown panic in the hours before Saturday night's match, strutting around Rome with "naked torsos, strong tattoos."

The paper wrote: "They gave themselves up to an orgy of beer, their own sweat and the tears of others (was Winston Churchill in his own way a hooligan?)."

The Times of London reported that inside Rome's Olympic Stadium, England's hooligan element was "dealt with, through controlled brutality."

The paper said that "it had been a depressing experience to go in search of the delights of the Eternal City and come face to face with the eternal problem," of violent English fans.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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