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Sunday, March 29, 1998 Published at 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK


Violence mars weekend sport
image: [ England fans at an Ireland match which ended in rioting ]
England fans at an Ireland match which ended in rioting

Weekend sporting action in the UK was marred by a series of violent incidents which will concern authorities in the run-up to the France 98 World Cup.

A fan died in an incident after the Fulham Gillingham football game and other matches saw sporadic violence from fans.

In the Barnsley Liverpool match, referee Gary Willard had to be escorted from the Oakwell ground by police for his own safety.

Furious Barnsley fans invaded the pitch after three home players were sent off and Mr Willard had stopped the game for five minutes.

[ image: A Barnsley fan is led away after a pitch invasion]
A Barnsley fan is led away after a pitch invasion
A fan also ran onto the pitch during the Premiership match between Everton and Aston Villa at Goodison Park but was intercepted by police before he reached the referee.

Rugby League's Silk Cut Challenge Cup semi-final between Sheffield Eagles and Salford at Headingley was interrupted when the game's referee, Stuart Cummings, was wrestled to the ground by a fan.

Season of violence

Earlier in March, morning raids in Sunderland, north-east England, led to the arrest of 29 men accused of plotting World Cup violence.

Swiss authorities, working with British police, also denied 19 men entry to the country before the two nations met for their World Cup warm-up.

[ image: Stadium security has been improved in recent years]
Stadium security has been improved in recent years
This month also saw a Sheffield United fan jailed for knocking out a linesman during the team's game against Portsmouth.

And in February, police detained 20 Cardiff fans before their side's FA Cup replay with Reading. That game ended with scores of riot police drafted in to prevent disorder.

Stoke City's brand new £14m Britannia Stadium got the worst possible opening when home fans rioted after seeing the team lose 7-0 to Birmingham.

World Cup preparations

[ image: Home Secretary Jack Straw is working with the French]
Home Secretary Jack Straw is working with the French
Long before these incidents happened, British police began sharing their wealth of expertise in dealing with violence in sport with the organisers of the France 98 World Cup.

The English Football Association has also appointed its own anti-hooligan chief to help stamp on any potential problems from fans during the tournament.

French authorities will use a 'fast-track' justice system to deal with any hooliganism during the summer.

Dedicated prosecutors will deal with cases within 24 hours and hooligans face minimum sentences of a year for missile throwing, inciting hatred or assault.

Violence linked to football

Violence and football have long been regarded as inseparable in the UK after the rise of the hooligan in the 1970s.

Hooliganism, or an expectation of it, became so ingrained in UK sporting culture that there has been academic research into the problem and even a controversial film called ID.

But despite the sport's reputation, violence involving fans decreased during the 1990s thanks to a concerted effort by football's governing bodies, government and fans.

While the UK is seen as the home of the football hooligan, a problem now reported far and wide, the country is also acknowledged as having the expertise to crack down on violence.

But despite high profile efforts to deal with hooliganism, such as designing family-friendly stadiums and banning drinking, the problem appears to persist.

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