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Last Updated: Friday, 6 April 2007, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
The return of the English disease?
By Mario Cacciottolo
BBC News

Tottenham fans and police in Seville
English football fans were involved in trouble for two successive nights

This week has seen an unwelcome return to headlines about crowd trouble and English football fans.

Violence broke out at Manchester United's match in Rome and also Tottenham Hotspur's game in Seville, resulting in fans being hospitalised and dramatic television footage of riot police beating supporters with batons.

With accusations of aggressive police tactics and badly-behaved fans, do the two successive nights of sporting violence herald a return of the 'English Disease' as hooliganism was dubbed during the dark days of the 70s and 80s?

'Over the top'

Malcolm Clarke is chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, a national organisation that represents football fans.

He said he does not believe the two episodes were a sign of English fans returning to unwelcome ways.

"I don't think there's any evidence to suggest English fans were out to cause trouble in any significant way in either of the two games.

"In the Manchester United game the initial provocation came from the Roma fans who came to the fence separating the two sets of fans and began throwing missiles.

"A minority of United fans did react to the taunting of the Roma fans and move towards the fence and it would have been better if they had stayed where they were.

These two games were big cup games that carried more expectation and there was more at stake, which raises the stakes overall
Professor Anthony King

But he said the response of the police was "clearly over the top".

"In the Tottenham game, the television pictures are less clear but there seems to be no evidence of fighting between rival fans.

"It was between Tottenham supporters and the police, who got involved when the fans began standing and gesticulating towards the pitch after the controversial penalty was awarded."

In Rome, the city's chief of police, Achille Serra, showed a press conference footage of Manchester United supporters acting aggressively, with a number of ringleaders urging other fans forward during the disturbances.

He blamed Manchester United for issuing a letter which warned fans that they might be attacked in Rome which he said in turn helped spark the evening's violence.

And local media in Italy has reported three English fans have been banned from football stadia in the country for three years as a result of the violence.

'Different attitude'

Mr Clarke does believe English fans behave differently when abroad for European matches, but not necessarily in a negative fashion.

"English fans can have a different attitude when they go abroad, but only in that they make the mistake of thinking they are going to experience the same high standard of professional policing that they're used to in this country.

"It's an extraordinary situation when a host club and a host police force say they are keeping away supporters inside the ground for 90 minutes after a match has ended, purely for their own safety."

Manchester United fans were kept in the Stadio Olimpico for that length of time after the game in Rome, on advice from the local police, because of fears of clashes with Roma fans.

Two Roma fans
Italian police have defended their conduct in dealing with the trouble

Mr Clarke also said foreign police forces could learn from how British police conduct themselves.

"If British police were captured on CCTV doing to foreign fans what we saw being done in Rome then the reaction would be to demand an inquiry.

"Hitting somebody over the head with a teak baton, which often has a strip of lead running down the middle of it, will kill somebody one day.

"I would hope that the foreign police forces, particularly the Italians and judging by Thursday's events, the Spanish as well, would try to learn from the British experience.

"There's been a sea change in thinking right from the top of the police forces in this country and something similar has to happen abroad as well."

Professor Anthony King is a sociologist and expert on football hooligans who believes that certain factors led to the two successive nights of violence involving English fans.

"The aggressive fan culture in this country from the late 1970s has never gone away," he said.

"It just happens that there's been these two blips, and there are certain factors behind that.

"These two games were big cup games that carried more expectation and there was more at stake, which raises the stakes overall.

"Violence at important, key matches is something that's happened for decades. In previous eras it always happened at the semi-final and final stages.

"There's a complicated dynamic at work involving a big cup game, lots of people attending including hard-core Ultra fans, and then there's the questionable policing on top.

"But I don't think this is a sign of football culture going backwards."


SEE ALSO
Tottenham accuse Spanish police
06 Apr 07 |  Europe
Sevilla 2-1 Tottenham
05 Apr 07 |  Europe

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