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Tuesday, 2 June, 1998, 18:06 GMT 19:06 UK
Soccer hooliganism: Made in England, but big abroad
Football hooliganism has been seen all over Europe
Football hooliganism has been seen all over Europe
Football hooliganism, once a distinctly English disease, has proved highly contagious.

On mainland Europe these days, hooligan culture is a far greater problem than in its country of origin. Supporters in Holland, Germany and Italy can all claim to have picked up England's bad habits. And as those countries begin to clamp down, a new wave of violence is washing over the former Eastern-bloc countries such as Poland and Hungary.

In England, the traditional Saturday afternoon punch-up that blighted domestic football during the 1970s and '80s is largely a distant memory.

The legendary "superhooligan" armies, such as Chelsea's "Headhunters" and West Ham's "Inter City Firm", have withered under the combined forces of stringent legislation, all-seater stadia, supporter segregation and closed circuit television.

There have been isolated flare-ups. One of the most shocking examples of soccer thuggery, where a Sheffield United supporter leapt on to the pitch and thumped a linesman unconscious just because he did not agree with a handball decision, is still fresh in the nation's collective memory.

England ban in Europe

Adam Brown, a committee member of the Football Supporters Association, says the tide of change can be traced back to 1985, after 39 Italian fans were killed at a European Cup final during rioting by Liverpool supporters.

The tragedy prompted a great deal of soul-searching among football fans, and English teams were slapped with a five-year ban in Europe. Their return in 1991 came in the form of a European Cup Winners' Cup final between Manchester United and Barcelona, in Rotterdam.

"About 26,000 United fans travelled to Holland and there were just 28 arrests, mostly just for drunkenness," says Brown.

"There's no doubt the tone of football has changed. The old hooligans have grown up and those young enough to replace them often can't get into matches," says Brown.

"Capacity is down because stadiums are now all-seater, tickets have shot up in price and getting into a match is no longer a case of queuing up outside the ground and paying at the gate.

"It all conspires to make life very difficult for the young, casual fan who was your typical hooligan."

Violence across the Channel

Crowd violence is still a major issue at national level, especially when England fans travel abroad. In 1995 the sleeping bulldog stirred when England fans rioted at a friendly game against Ireland; and in October last year there was more trouble on the terraces, this time in Rome during a crunch World Cup qualifying match.

Across the Channel hooliganism has now become commonplace.

In Germany, soccer violence has been inextricably linked with the far-right nationalist movement. In 1991 a fan was shot dead in a fight between Leipzig and Berlin supporters. A year later at the European Championships in Sweden, rioting German fans were almost on a par with their English counterparts at the same tournament.

Holland too has suffered at the hands of soccer yobs and in Italy mounting trouble came to a head in 1995 when a 24-year-old Genoa fan was stabbed to death by an AC Milan supporter. For a while the violence abated but it has returned.

The new battlegrounds are to the east, in former communist states such as Romania, Poland and Hungary.

Freed from the constraints of police-state rule, young football fans have adopted the tell-tale signs of football hooliganism in the West: skinhead style, racist chants and nationalistic banner waving. In Hungary, the police have adopted the British example of using surveillance cameras inside the grounds to pick out ringleaders. In the Polish capital, Warsaw, following street battles, clubs were ordered to introduce identity cards.

But police forces across Europe know that without the legislation to bring hooligans to book the problem may still have a long way to run.

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