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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 16:18 GMT
UK helps Greece tackle hooligans
By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Athens

Fans at Nea Smirni stadium in Athens on 9 January
Crowd violence has become an ugly feature of Greek football
Sports officials and top football clubs in Greece have called on the government and police to take much tougher measures against football hooligans.

Greece has one of the worst records in Europe for football violence and officials complain the riotous fans are ruining the country's national sport.

Now Greece is turning to another country which has suffered similar problems in the past - England.

The English Football Association and UK police are trying to help.

Just six months ago, a single goal sparked massive celebrations across the whole of Greece. The Greek football team had won its first major international tournament: Euro 2004.

But this moment of triumph and national unity was short-lived and it was soon back to the more common form of expression at football matches: violence.

Ticket sales

Fighting between fans was so bad just before a match here in Athens earlier this month that the referee called the game off. At least 15 people were taken to hospital for treatment.

Petros Kokkalis, vice-president of Olympiakos - one of the clubs involved - says football hooligans are having a devastating impact on the sport in Greece.

Fans celebrate Euro 2004
Fans showed their better side after Greece won Euro 2004

"It drives a certain devaluation for the total football industry and in the football market by driving crowds away from the stadia," he said.

"Peace-loving football fans are being driven away by small minorities of young men who are intent on tribalism and violence. And this is a major problem for Greek football right now."

Back in 1985, more than three million tickets were sold every season for football matches. Last year, it was down to less than one million. As a result, revenue for the main football clubs has fallen dramatically. But now help could be at hand.

Chief Superintendent Barry Norman is just one of several senior officials from the UK who have been at a conference this week in Athens passing on their experience of dealing with football hooliganism to their Greek counterparts.

These days football is real big business in England because it doesn't have the hooligan problems that it used to have
Chief Superintendent Barry Norman
UK police officer

He says the answer lies in full co-operation between the police and football clubs, and a clear division of responsibility between them for securing football grounds during matches.

"We have turned football around in the UK over the last 20 years. How many people used to walk round wearing the team strip 25 years ago? Didn't happen. These days football is real big business in England, because it doesn't have the hooligan problems that it used to have."

He says many more women and children now attend matches - almost unheard of 25 years ago.


Establishing dedicated police intelligence teams to track the hooligans has also been an important part of the British strategy, along with improvements to the football grounds and the introduction of membership and smart cards.

Riot police at Coventry v Portsmouth match in 2001
UK police have dealt with their fair share of football violence

In Greece, co-operation between the clubs and the authorities is minimal. One club official says it isn't even clear who is responsible for cutting the grass, let alone security.

The new president of the Greek Football League, Alexandros Lykourezos, says he will try to pressurise the government.

"It's not an easy task, it's going to take some time," he said. "I will visit the ministers of sport and public order and I will try to obtain quick and immediate measures."

Although the issue is now being pushed up the government's agenda, it's likely to be many years before football hooliganism here is stamped out.

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