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Monday, 19 June, 2000, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Analysis: Soccer violence an international problem
English fan in Belgium
England fans wait for the crucial match with Germany
By BBC News Online's Martin Asser

Soccer hooliganism has often been called 'the British disease' but this kind of antisocial behaviour characterised by the term occurs almost everywhere the sport is played.

Fans of England's national team do hit the headlines more than any other after their violent clashes on the international stage.

German fan arrest in clashes with English fans
A German fan arrested before the England v Germany clash
Hooligans in the rest of Europe, by contrast, usually fight their battles at home, often expressing local, regional or subnational rivalries.

But fans from Germany, Holland, Belgium and elsewhere have been prepared to bury internal differences to battle it out with foreign fans and police on the pavements of European cities.

During the 1998 World Cup a French policeman nearly died after being badly beaten by German fans. And earlier this year two Leeds United supporters were stabbed to death by followers of the Turkish club Galatasaray.


Some researchers believe English hooliganism is treated so seriously because the minority of England fans who perpetrate the violence are so visible.

The fans gather in heavy-drinking packs in public places. Local police are deployed in side streets. The world's media are on hand to catch any action.

Denmark fans
Disappointed Roligans after Denmark's loss to France
The Englishmen's dour xenophobia contrasts strongly with other famously hard-drinking supporters of national teams.

Scotland's Tartan Army and Demark's Roligans - rolig means peaceful in Danish - also drink to excess, but the carnival atmosphere which surrounds them means the more they imbibe the greater the conviviality of their gatherings.

Other hooligan elements do not need alcohol to put fire in their bellies. In fact, Italy's so-called ultras are said to view the English drunkenness with disdain because it impairs the ability to fight.

Mirror to society

You don't have to be sociologist to understand that football hooliganism is a reflection of the violence and divisions prevalent in any society.

Peter Marsh of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford said: "If you had thousands of working-class males congregating on a Saturday afternoon, and there were no fights, that would be very surprising."

England fans
Hooligans bask in attention of their exploits
In countries where there are sectarian divisions, that is often the basis for clashes between fans. In Italy, it is regional divisions.

English xenophobia is replaced by Italian values of machismo - and Neapolitans harbour more rancour for northern Italians than they do for anyone in the wider world.

In Spain, echoes of the civil war still reverberate around fixtures between Real Madrid and Athletico Bilbao - the latter drawing support beyond the Basque region among militant anti-Fascists across the country.

Glare of publicity

There has been much research into English soccer hooliganism, but irregular documentation means it is hard to paint a coherent international or European picture of football violence.

beer glasses
English fans drinking before Saturday's game
Where the phenomenon is at it worst - in the UK, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Italy - about 10% of games witness "serious incidents", according to researchers.

International tournaments are more at risk, researchers say, partly because of the increased expectation of violence.

"Given all the attention paid to this small minority of English fans that occasionally causes trouble, violence of some kind is inevitable," Dr Marsh says.

It may be no coincidence, therefore, that the British tabloid press gives English hooligans massive coverage after games, as well as stoking up the atmosphere of xenophobia before them.

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