Violence Follows English Fans

Monday, May 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) — Fears are growing that soccer hooliganism and fighting on an even greater scale could ruin next month's European Championships.

``Soccer: The Gutter Again,'' declared The Sun, Britain's biggest-selling tabloid, on Friday after two days of violent clashes scarred the UEFA Cup final between Turkey's Galatasaray and Britain's Arsenal.

While England apologized Thursday for the mayhem, authorities were predicting that the Euro 2000 tournament, which runs from June 10-July 2 in Belgium and the Netherlands, could be a battleground for even worse rioting if it draws hooligans from across Europe.

``The mindless few must not spoil it for the rest,'' Arsenal Chairman Peter Hill-Wood was quoted as telling The Sun. ``Football must never be beaten by hooliganism.''

Dozens of fans were injured, including four who were stabbed, and 64 were arrested in vicious fighting between rampaging mobs of English and Turkish supporters in Copenhagen before Wednesday night's game.

Danish authorities Thursday fined and expelled the 19 Britons and 15 Turks who were arrested. They were also banned from entering Denmark for one year.

Galatasaray won the game 4-1 in a penalty shootout, becoming the first Turkish team to win a European soccer title and provoking huge celebrations in Turkey. But the game was virtually an afterthought in England following the running street battles that left a trail of devastation in the city.

``We apologize to the Danes for what happened in the last 48 hours,'' said David Davies, executive director of the English Football Association. ``The people of that hospitable city deserve better, much better. They deserve the apologies of ourselves and of the Turks. There are absolutely no excuses.''

Prime Minister Tony Blair also weighed in, declaring, ``I condemn absolutely, without any reservations at all, these appalling acts of violence by so-called fans.''

Violence also flared Wednesday night in London, where hundreds of Arsenal fans rampaged through the Finsbury Park area near the team's home stadium at Highbury, attacking Turkish businesses, throwing bottles and smashing windows. Six people were arrested and three policemen were injured.

The British media condemned the violence in both countries and warned authorities to start acting now to prevent a repeat next month.

The Mirror, a British tabloid, urged the British government to take stronger action to prevent known troublemakers from traveling abroad to soccer games. Legislation giving authorities the power to take passports away from suspected hooligans was watered down last year following complaints that civil liberties would be violated.

Under an editorial titled, ``Keep our hooligans at home,'' the Mirror called on Home Secretary Jack Straw, the British official responsible for law and order, to crack down.

``Let's see how hard he can be on the soccer thugs who shame this country,'' the tabloid said. ``Violent soccer hooligans deserve no breaks.''

An official of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which monitors hooligan activity in England, said he feared that some English fans would try to cause trouble at Euro 2000.

``I can guarantee you that if there is any trouble, English fans will be part of it,'' he said, speaking under the unit's customary policy of anonymity.

The scenes of English thugs running amok in Copenhagen and London did no favors to England's bid for the 2006 World Cup. But Davies and Blair sought to limit the damage, citing the relatively peaceful 1996 European Championship staged in England.

``In this country we have the strongest possible safeguards on football violence,'' Blair said. ``The Euro 96 competition is probably the competition freest of football violence of any competition in recent years.''

South Africa, Germany, Morocco and South Africa are the other 2006 bidders. FIFA will select the host country on July 6.

England has a long reputation for soccer hooliganism dating back 25 years.

After a decade of violence across Europe, English soccer sank to a low in Brussels on May 29, 1985, when Liverpool fans rioted at the Champions Cup final against Juventus at the Heysel stadium. Thirty-nine people died when a wall collapsed under the weight of fleeing fans.

Soccer's European governing body, UEFA, banned English clubs from its competitions indefinitely. The ban was later reduced to five years.

There was little sign of English hooligans when the clubs returned to European competition in 1991. But the violence has been steadily creeping back.

Tensions between English and Turkish fans have been high since the stabbing deaths of two Leeds United fans in Istanbul last month on the eve of a UEFA Cup semifinal game against Galatasaray.

England and Turkey will play in different groups in the Euro 2000 championships, but the two teams have games in nearby cities, providing ample opportunity for clashes between rival fans.