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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
So far so good for England fans
By Claire Heald and Tom Geoghegan
BBC News, Cologne

British police with happy England fans
It's been all smiles for British fans and bobbies so far
The England players may not have won plaudits for their performance in the World Cup so far. But unlike in the past, the fans and police have only good words for each other.

England fans are close to cementing a new reputation for good behaviour at the World Cup, according to the police chief leading British uniformed officers in Germany.

Taking stock ahead of England's final group stage match in Cologne on Tuesday, Supt Roger Evans said there had been only a "Mickey Mouse" level of trouble so far.

He has praised the operation where 50 UK police officers are working alongside Germans as a success "vastly exceeding expectation".

Of the 2,500 fans arrested at the World Cup so far, 68 were England followers. And, unlike previous tournaments, they have not been the focus of the worst trouble.

'Massive favour'

When Polish and German fans clashed around their match on 14 June, Dortmund police made 429 arrests, including 119 Poles and 278 Germans.

Other countries' fans are more a source of the problem this time around, he said.

"You can't put England supporters in a box, but they've done themselves a massive favour in the last two games," says Supt Evans.

German and British police officers
British officers have joined their German counterparts on the beat

"People here were thinking 'England fans are football hooligans', because that's been shoved down their necks.

"But groups like England fans are building respect and there's a momentum towards self-policing.

"The advert about England is 'I believe'. I believe they can re-establish that reputation."

UK police are at ports, on the railways, and in the host cities. Plain-clothed spotters are also in the country to watch for known troublemakers. They form the largest component of the 320 foreign police in uniform from 13 participating countries.

Good spirits

And there was no day of rest for them as England fans started to stream in on a sunny Sunday. This is the third German city hosting the team and fans.

Frankfurt and Nuremberg had a combined total of 120,000 England fans. The vast majority were well-behaved.

The old town in Cologne has compact beer-haus lined streets. Fans from many nations are mingling here, most are in good spirits.

Tens of thousands of England followers are expected for the match on the same day that Germany play.

An extra "Fan Fest" big-screen viewing area has been set up across the river bank from the city centre for both English and Swedish supporters.

German mounted police
German police have been praised by England fans for their patience

But Supt Evans is optimistic the good-natured behaviour of fans can continue: "It's a big city that can absorb an awful lot of England fans - whereas if you go to a smaller location and 30-40,000 turn up, that can be intimidating."

Fans arriving in the city to take in the sights and the local Kolsh beer are also impressed with the German and British policing so far.

Many of them are experienced England followers, who remember the dark days of trouble and have a well-worn gauge to assess their treatment.

"This is the best policing I've seen. It's better than the Spanish, the Italians and the Polish, says Alan Bird, 56, from Nottingham, who has travelled with England for more than 10 years.

Self-policing

"They just baton people for no reason, even if you're just standing there in a crowd. I've seen it happening.

"But the Germans have been great. I knew they would be because when we came to Munich for the 5-1 game it was fantastic then. If the fans are in a bar singing, they let them sing, but they stand on the outside so you know if you were to cause trouble you'd get it."

Some supporters have also witnessed the fans' own version of self-policing.

Gary Wellings, 46, a Villa fan from Birmingham has been to all three games and feels a "superb" discreet police presence has helped fans feel secure.

But he has witnessed some fans exercise their own form of order when the situation threatened to turn nasty.

German police in city square
German police have been kept busy with other nations' fans

"I have seen a couple of England fans getting punched by other England fans, when they were getting a bit lairy."

Amongst the sun, high spirits and conviviality comes one warning note, however.

Psychologist Dr Clifford Stott is an expert on crowd dynamics and in Germany to gather more research, which in the past has shaped government policy and plans.

He says policing has been good overall. But on occasion officers should have stepped in earlier to prevent trouble escalating on the streets.

"Unless these low-level early forms of intervention are present, my prediction would be the likelihood of problems will increase," he says.

For Supt Evans, that is feedback he will take forward to the next major testing ground for England's reputation - the European championships in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.


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