British hooligans carded by Blair

Denmark violence may hinder '06 Cup bid

Soccer

May 19, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - Scourge of a sport and shame of a nation, England's snarling, brawling soccer hooligans are back.

Wednesday night, they managed to turn Copenhagen's normally safe streets into a riot zone in violent clashes with Turkish fans before the UEFA Cup final between London-based Arsenal and Galatasaray of Turkey.

Yesterday came the predictable fallout, with British Prime Minister Tony Blair scolding the thugs, while the sport's officials sought to put a brave face on a public relations disaster that could hinder the country's bid for the 2006 World Cup.

Meanwhile, few commented on the match, won on penalty kicks by Galatasaray after a scoreless 120 minutes."I condemn absolutely, without any reservations at all, these appalling acts of violence by so-called fans," Blair said. "But in this country we have the strongest possible safeguards on football [soccer] violence."

English hooligans abroad are at their most threatening and there are fears they could wreak havoc at next month's European Championships, to be co-hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands.

Another English hooligan outbreak could doom the country's hopes to host the World Cup for the first time since 1966, the only time England won the competition."Something like this is unhelpful, but the fact of the matter is that we are bidding to stage the World Cup in England, our own country," said David Davies, executive director of England's main soccer body, the Football Association.

He also apologized to Danes.

The Copenhagen chaos was hardly unexpected. Last month, two English fans were stabbed to death when Leeds met Galatasaray in Istanbul.

For the hooligans, the Arsenal-Galtasaray game provided a rematch, which led to two nights of running battles that left 18 injured and led to 64 arrests, including 15 Britons.

Yesterday, Danish authorities announced those arrested would be freed without any charges filed."We don't want to keep them in Denmark any longer than we have to," said Flemming Munch, a Danish police spokesman, according to Britain's Press Association.

English fans actually pinned the blame for the violence on Danish police. They claimed the cops weren't tough enough in separating opposing fans.

For years, English authorities have sought to stamp out soccer-related violence with stringent laws, stricter security and improved stadiums.

In the top competitive division, standing areas in which spectators were herded like animals, were replaced with seats.

Despite the transformation of the English game, authorities haven't been able to stamp out the root causes of soccer violence."There hasn't been a period in pro football [soccer] where there hasn't been violence at matches," said Martin Roderick, of Leicester University's Center for Research into Sport and Society.

Who are the hooligans?"Male, young, usually of a lower class," Roderick said. "They have a narrow social horizon, lack an education. He finds prestige in being tough, holding his beer. His sense of identity is bolstered by an ability to fight."

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