Trouble at Euro 2004 could see England kicked out of the tournament. But the authorities say they have a better chance than ever of beating the hooligans.
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine
England have two chances of going down in history following Euro 2004.
One is as the first England team to win the championships, the other is to be the first national squad thrown out because of its fans.
After trouble between England and Turkey fans during the qualifiers a year ago, Uefa warned it would not tolerate further violence, and the Football Association didn't take up its ticket allocation for remaining group matches against Turkey and Macedonia.
Police have since been busily issuing hooligans with banning orders to prevent them joining real fans at the tournament. By the time England play their first game against France on 13 June, police expect some 2,500 people to have been tackled in this way.
Supporters' groups have also been working to beat the problem of hooliganism, advising Portuguese authorities on the best way to police fans.
Never has so much effort been put in to making sure a tournament passes off peacefully. Have the hooligans finally been trounced?
Nipped in the bud
During Euro 2004, Portugal will host 200,000 English visitors, a quarter of whom will be there for the football alone.
The huge numbers able to make the trip means that maintaining the peace will be a far tougher job than that faced by Japan and Korea during the 2002 World Cup.
"It would be incredible if there were not people arrested for minor outbreaks of drunkenness and violence," says Deputy Chief Constable David Swift, the senior British police officer for England matches.
"But with a fair wind we could end up with none of those major incidents where hundreds of people are involved."
There's little evidence that the organised hooligan firms will be going over in large numbers, as they're being targeted. And while there's chat on the internet, it's "mostly rubbish", he says. "The key individuals, if they're not banned, are on the target list."
In addition to the banning orders already issued, legislation will also be used to stop suspected trouble makers when they try to leave UK ports. For those who do slip through, a team of 20 police spotters will help Portuguese police and find evidence to bring further prosecutions.
The Home Office is spending £5m over four years to get tackle more hooligans. Successes so far include the conviction last week of 17 men involved in a fight at Maze Hill, south-east London.
"We're confident the arrangements we've put in place are expansive and it will be possible for England fans to have a good time and a good laugh without disorder," a Home Office spokesman says.
Play a part
England coach Sven Goran Eriksson has said it will be a "real disaster" if his side are thrown out because of hooliganism, adding that if fans behave, they could act as England's "12th man".
Mr Swift sees the role of fans as being even more involved - particularly when it comes to reporting minor skirmishes in bars or squares that might later turn into something more serious.
"It's saying you know when there's trouble brewing and getting together, leaving and telling us about it so [the police] can deal with it through increased visibility."
Kevin Miles, international coordinator for the Football Supporters' Federation, says: "Policing and the welcome that England fans are given is perhaps the biggest factors in determining how things will develop."
The high-visibility - but friendly approach - of Dutch police during Euro 2000 meant trouble was dealt with quickly and fans enjoyed their time there.
But things were different in Belgium, which co-hosted the tournament. Some 350 fans were arrested and deported following violence in Charleroi before the England vs Germany game.
That's because in Belgium there was either no police presence, or a mass of officers in full riot gear, Mr Miles says. "It adds to the tension if you get off the train and there's lots of police in riot gear and it ends up with a far greater chance of rioting."
He says Portuguese police appear to favour the Dutch approach, and have also visited England to see the tactics of UK police in handling fans.
But there's still a very real fear that England could be sent home early. And police success in applying the banning orders has also been questioned - a BBC source said in February that magistrates were ignoring prosecutors' recommendations, and a quarter of know hooligans escape travel bans.
Hooliganism expert Professor Eric Dunning, of the University of Leicester, warns there's still cause for concern.
"There was no trouble in Japan at the World Cup, but I don't think there's been a major tournament in Europe for many years now at which there has not been trouble. That's because football hooliganism as a phenomenon is in virtually every [European] country."
Prof Dunning says England's unenviable record is deserved. "England fans travelling abroad were the ones who first engaged in violence outside their country, in the 60s and 70s."
The Football Factory features fans of Chelsea, Millwall and Tottenham
He says many hooligans will try to beat the banning orders and travel to Portugal.
And films which focus on hooliganism, such as Football Factory and Elijah Wood's The Yank, show it remains attractive to many people.
"Some people just get a buzz out of it," Prof Dunning says. Others count themselves as patriots - but all are missing the point.
"Modern sport squares the impossible circle of allowing friendship and enmity to co-exist, because you go all out on the pitch to beat the opposition, then you have a drink with them afterwards."
Reformed Watford soccer hooligan and writer Dougie Brimson says although banning orders, tight ticket controls and policing will make a difference, violence is engrained in English football.
"There's the saying that when trouble starts, England fans back down from no-one."
Add your comments on this story, using the form below.
I speak as a 26 year old convicted "football hooligan", and believe me, it is not something that I am proud of because I genuinely love my team. I have been in fights where there have been only 20 or so people involved, so saying there will be no trouble where thousands of people are massed in one place is a total joke. Hooligans, banned or not, will get into Portugal by one means or another.
As an Englishman living and working here in Portugal, I constantly hear comments regarding British hooligans and the upcoming Euro 2004. It quite frankly embarrasses me to be even slightly associated with the small bunch of idiots who try and ruin it for the rest. They may say that they are there to represent England - take it from me, boys, you don't and I'll be doing anything in my power to make sure that everyone I know is aware of that.
Maybe the FA should play safe and withdraw rather than be embarassed by the fans.
Mark Mitchell, Scotland
Having lived in Spain for 10 years I am only too well aware that the English are considered thugs and animals, and of course they do not distinguish between the few hundred morons fighting and the vast majority of normal peaceful supporters. If the hooligans cannot be stopped, pull the English team out. Drastic, but it saves the shame of the entire nation.
Neil Cochrane, UK
My fear is that hooligans from other countries will start trouble with England fans to attempt to get us thrown out of the tournament. They have been given even more motivation to try and goad our supporters.
Fletcher, Poole, UK
Dunning's comments about beating the opposition and then heading out to drink with them holds true in many sports - and is part of the pleasure of watching and supporting them. The idiots who think that fighting is part of their day out need to be stopped.
Dom M, London, UK
I'm so glad I follow rugby. It would be a shame if those prevented from fighting at football matches decided to go to rugby matches to fight instead.
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