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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005, 20:11 GMT 21:11 UK
On the trail of low-level thugs
By Joe Boyle
BBC News

'Low-level' football hooliganism is on the rise, say the British Transport Police. On Saturday they launched a crackdown at eleven English games.

Luton station at 1703 BST
(Spot the difference) Before...

Luton versus Brentford was not one of the eleven, but it was the only game I could get to by train. So I travelled to Bedfordshire to assess the level of thuggery train users can expect from an ordinary day in League One.

The 1518 Thameslink service to Flitwick via Luton is an unremarkable train. There are very few people on board when I get on at London St Pancras, and even fewer with experience of football hooligans.

"I remember once travelling on a train with Arsenal and Manchester United fans when there was almost some trouble," remarks Ivan Kirby, a 40-year-old supermarket worker.

"But that was just a bit of banter that threatened to get out of hand. And it wasn't on this line," he adds.

Well, has there been any low-level hooliganism on this line? "I travel to and from London every day, with and without football fans, and I've never seen any problems."

Sitting a few (empty) seats away from Mr Kirby is Stuart Jordan, a 30-year-old policeman from St Albans. Surely he knows all about local hooliganism?

Luton station at 1713 BST
..... After
"This particular line isn't bad. Luton are the only football team that I know of on the line, and there doesn't appear to be much trouble coming from there."

At this point, a change of tack is needed. So I ask Mr Jordan if he believes the BTP are doing the right thing in concentrating on low-level thugs.

"Definitely. I've been impressed by the way they've policed the line, and the way they've acted at St Pancras. They're very professional," he responds.

So, he strongly favours the BTP approach. Other passengers don't necessarily agree.

Nick Woodhead, an osteopath from Nottingham, says: "If they are taking away valuable resources that could be used to tackle more serious crime, then no, I don't think they should concentrate on low-level trouble."

Water-swilling

I arrive at Luton station 10 minutes after full-time, expecting a sea of Brentford fans. Perhaps they will be chanting, beer-swilling or even trouble-making... Nothing of the sort!

There are six or seven BTP officers at the station and very few other people. I ask the boss, Sgt Ian Pennington, if any trouble is expected. "No, we're just here as insurance really, because there has been some delayed trains."

Stuart Jordan
There doesn't appear to be much trouble coming from Luton
Stuart Jordan

I take a "before" photograph of the station platform, expecting an "after" shot filled with fans. But it never came.

The 1707 back to St Pancras is delayed to 1713 - just enough time for a group of Brentford fans to arrive. Beer-swilling? Afraid not. They are drinking water.

I get on the 1707 and wait, expectantly, for any hint of controversy. But all I hear are tales of Blackpool away games and one-nil victories from years gone-by. With the sun flooding into the carriage, the fans begin to tire. Eventually, one falls asleep. Is this it? I think to myself.

Thirty-five minutes later we pull into St Pancras and I find a BTP officer. Is this it for the Brentford fans? - I ask.

He tells me there are a few dozen more coming on the 1724 train. But they are no trouble. In fact, he says, there hasn't really been much to report all afternoon.

"That's good for me, but not so good for you," he says, with a questioning intonation.

Well, I wouldn't say that. At least I found Luton to be largely free from football hooliganism - high or low-level. A small thing, perhaps, but certainly not a bad thing.

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