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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 March 2006, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
World Cup threat
Brian Alexander
By Brian Alexander
BBC Radio Five Live presenter

If you want an idea of the extent of hooliganism in Poland in 2006, think back to England in 1986.

Back to the dark days when violence, fascism and racism were familiar presences at football grounds throughout the country.

Alarmingly, the Polish hooligans are starting to turn their attention to Germany and this summer's World Cup.

Sport on Five
BBC Radio Five Live
31 March 2006, 1900-2200
They want to test themselves against the elite of European hooliganism in a country that is only an hour's drive away.

There was a massive organised fight between German and Polish fans in woodland just outside Frankfurt last December.

German police arrived halfway through to break it up and thankfully no knives were used - just baseball bats - but there is a fear it was a warm-up for the real event this summer.

Last week I travelled to Poland to investigate the threat posed by Polish hooliganism for BBC Radio Five Live.

To learn about the issue first-hand, I met one of the hooligans in a bar in Krakow.

It was a dingy, intimidating place, with hardcore fascist, anti-semitic and white supremacist stickers covering the walls.

Yet although he was a skinhead, Martin was not a typical hooligan.

The 30-year-old was anti-racist, had a degree and spoke excellent English. He even went round the bar removing some of the offensive stickers.

Martin was a supporter of Cracovia, one of the oldest clubs in Poland, whose stadium is located only 500 yards from that of their great rivals, Wisla, in Krakow.

In fact, rivals is rather an understatement, as followers of the clubs have been engaged in something of a holy war.

German policeman on training exercise before World Cup
Polish fans could present particular problems to the German police
In the last 12 months eight fans of the clubs have been stabbed to death near the stadiums.

Just two weeks ago a Wisla fan was dragged from his car and stabbed to death.

There will be 30,000 police at the World Cup, but Poland presents some very particular problems for the authorities.

As with the other new European states, Poland does not have the basis in law or the means to stop hooligans crossing into Germany.

Border controls have been relaxed since the country joined the European Union in 2004, meaning people can currently just walk across the border.

The German government does plan to introduce a system whereby people have to show a passport to cross the border, but as there is no database of hooligans in Poland, it will be difficult to know who to stop.

And the cost of living and accommodation in Poland is so cheap, there are also worries that fans from all over Europe will use it as a base.

Interestingly, I spoke to the president of Poland's top club, Legia Warsaw, who showed what can be done to combat hooliganism.

He explained that the club had recently been bought by a television channel.

The German authorities face one hell of a battle to stop things getting very messy at the World Cup
The new owners became so sick of the club making the news for the wrong reasons that they asked them to clean up their act.

So the club monitored about 150 of their neo-Nazi supporters and eventually banned them from the stadium.

In protest, the rest of the supporters watched the next game from outside the stadium.

But after about four or five games they came back and seemed to accept the action of the club.

I appeared on a Five Live phone-in on Thursday to talk about the investigation and was accused by one caller of being alarmist.

That really is the last thing I want to do. But I do fear the German authorities face one hell of a battle to stop things getting very messy at the World Cup.


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