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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
Beckham and brawling: England's football exports
The England terraces at an international match
English football is both bad and beautiful

Foreign football fans not only follow the English Premiership, foreign hooligans - including those who rioted in Russia - are said to idolise their English counterparts.
Before last week's England-Argentina World Cup grudge match, Sapporo police officers were rushed into action to stem trouble - but certainly not the hooliganism the Japanese authorities had feared would accompany England supporters.

Instead, the 200-strong force was directed to stop over-excited and mainly female locals from mobbing the arriving England squad, and their special favourite David Beckham.

David Beckham visits Japanese children
Get out the water cannons?
Despite the coming together of so many of the world's greatest players for the tournament, "the arrival of the England team is the big story of the week here", according to one Japanese journalist.

England's football culture has the odd distinction of being both passionately admired and mortally feared around the globe.

Walk into a bar in Barcelona, Bangkok or Bangalore and you'll probably be able to strike up a conversation about David Beckham's talent for taking free kicks, or the ferocious reputation of Chelsea's hooligans with equal ease.

Leagues ahead

English Premier League games find avid audiences around the world - with matches regularly topping the TV ratings in places such as South-East Asia, far ahead of local fixtures.

Kevin Mousley, co-author of Football Confidential, says there are several reasons the Premiership enjoys greater international popularity than Spain's La Liga, Italy's Serie A or Germany's Bundesliga.

"The English game is perhaps faster and more watchable, so it has become widely associated with excitement and passion," says Mr Mousley.

A Japanese Beckham fan
English sides enjoy a worldwide following
The multinational flavour of many English club sides also helps to attract foreign fans keen to follow their home-grown stars. Indeed, two-thirds of the World Cup squads boast Premiership players.

However, Mr Mousley also suspects that television has played an important part in securing the English game a global audience.

"It was fortuitous that England won the World Cup in 1966 and Manchester United triumphed in Europe in 1968 just as football was being more widely televised. English football had a head start in establishing itself as a brand leader."

Shifting shirts

While English teams have not always out-performed their rivals on the field, in the marketing battle the top English sides have rarely been bettered.

King of the hill is Manchester United - the world's richest club - which has created a merchandising empire capable of putting Beckham shirts on backs from Dublin to Kuala Lumpur.

However, there is a darker side to the foreign admiration for English football culture.

Russians watch football in Moscow
Russia's flag is not the only red, white and blue at matches
When Russian hooligans rampaged through Moscow - killing two - following their team's defeat by Japan, the influence of English soccer thugs was one of the contributing factors cited.

"British hooligans are the gods of hooliganism," says Alexander Bogomolov of the newspaper Noviye Izvestia. "Such notorious British gangs as the Chelsea Headhunters are models of organised hooliganism for Russians."

Investigating Moscow's hooligan "firms", the BBC's Sarah Rainsford found that Russian thugs were in the thrall of their English counterparts.

Calm down

"English hooligans were the first, that's why we copy them. We copy what they wear, how they fight, their behaviour. No one does it better than the English," she was told by one thug.

Though Union Jacks may now fly on the terraces of Moscow to rally troublemakers, the influence of English hooligans is nothing new elsewhere, according to John Williams, director of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research at the University of Leicester.

Moscow after hooligans riot
Russian hooligans "copy" the English
"Our hooligans were actually more significant in the 1970s and 80s, when large numbers travelled to matches in Europe. The Dutch, in particular, argued that these English visitors triggered their own domestic hooliganism problems."

The fearsome reputation of English yobs made them the benchmark for soccer violence, with foreign hooligans keen to win some reflected "glory" by adopting English chants and flags.

Mr Williams says English football has enjoyed relative calm in recent years, so the Russian interest in our hooliganism lags "behind the times".

Curing the 'English disease'

The lull in hooligan activity, particularly at club level, has prompted a third export from English football, our match policing methods.

"Britain invented soccer hooliganism," said Dominque Spinosi, security director of the French World Cup Committee in 1998, "but they also invented the remedy."

Russian police confront hooligans
Should foreign police look to England too?
Mr Williams - who has advised the South Africans on fan management - says foreign authorities are perhaps too eager to see English police tactics as the reason for peace on the Premiership terraces.

"What they see is that we had a problem and dealt with it. In fact, the problem has eased because the game and the audience have changed."

So if English football has given one thing to the world game, it is the lesson that stopping hooliganism is harder than finding a Man United fan actually from Manchester.

See also:

10 Jun 02 | Europe
09 Jun 02 | Europe
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