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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 15:40 GMT 16:40 UK
Cardiff and the hooligan element
Sam Hammam
Cardiff City is home to one of the biggest and most active hooligan groups in Britain, known as the 'Soul Crew'.

But far from ostracising known wrongdoers, the club's chairman, Sam Hammam, actively befriends some.

He made one convicted football thug his personal bodyguard and has boasted in the past that he can reform "the biggest nutter".

The second programme in the 'Hooligans' series , to be shown on BBC2 on 19 May at 2100BST, puts Sam Hammam's relationship with these hooligans under the spotlight.

When the flamboyant Lebanese businessman bought Cardiff City Football Club in the summer of 2000, fans greeted him as a messiah. The club were languishing in the Third Division, with a dilapidated stadium and a struggling team.

On the pitch things have improved. The team just missed out on a second successive promotion in 2002. But off the pitch, things could hardly be worse.

Fans' friend

At the end of Hammam's first season at the club, Cardiff were promoted to the second division. In celebration, Hammam paid for a coach trip and champagne reception for selected fans at a hotel outside Mansfield.

The party contained known football hooligans. After the event Hammam told a local newspaper that he was "proud to travel with the Soul Crew".


Anyone who knows of Cardiff knows of Simmo

Darren Wells
One of the fans present was John Simmonds, known as Simmo. He features on South Wales police football intelligence sheets.

He is shown in the programme repeatedly among groups of men chanting 'Soul Crew' and seeking confrontation with opposing supporters at Cardiff City matches.

Ex-Chelsea hooligan Darren Wells said: "Simmo's just one of the top boys down at Cardiff. He's just well respected by all the different firms. Anyone who knows of Cardiff knows of Simmo."

Yet Mr Simmonds was present at Sam Hammam's champagne coach trip and is welcome at fans' meetings.

Reform

Hammam claims he has a policy of rehabilitation of hooligans. He has spoken of taming hooligans with love and hugs. "Bring me the biggest nutter...," he said "and I will change him."

One startling example of this policy was Hammam's appointment of a convicted football hooligan as his personal bodyguard.

But former Head of Cardiff Police, Gerald Toms is sceptical. He said: "To bring people who have clearly been involved... directly and indirectly, in football hooliganism into the heart of the football club is really, in my view, almost endorsing their behaviour."

Cardiff fans
Cardiff fans on the pitch after the game against Leeds
In January 2002, the whole problem exploded into public consciousness when Cardiff played Leeds in the third round of the FA Cup. Leeds fans and players were hit by missiles during the game, and hundreds of Cardiff fans invaded the pitch.

In May 2002, the club was fined 20,000 by the Welsh FA for the events of that day.

In the build-up to the game, Hammam had relished the hostile atmosphere that the Leeds players would face. He said: "It's better for us to play them at Ninian because the intimidatory factor will be so big... It's a bit like the old Den at Millwall except ten times more.'

The former head of the English Police Spotting teams, Eddie Curtis, condemned Mr Hammam for encouraging the hooligans.

"If that's what he said, that's just totally irresponsible," he said. "Somebody like that, after making those comments, and after seeing what's happened, shouldn't be allowed to work in football."

After initially blaming a racist English media for exaggerating the trouble at the Leeds game, Hammam launched a war on hooliganism. Yet it is debatable whether it has had any effect.

When Cardiff lost to Stoke in the play off semi-final on 1 May 2002, there was once again rioting outside Ninian Park. There was further trouble at the FAW Cup Final between Cardiff and Swansea 12 days later.

Gerald Toms remains doubtful of Cardiff City's policy. He said: "What I am saying is that's the words, where's the action?... Where is Sam Hammam coming from? What is his view? I mean why is he so closely involved with these groups?"

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