170 held as supporters clash in Glasgow centre

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ONE OF British sport's biggest-ever security operations stepped up a gear yesterday after fighting broke out among rival fans after England's Euro 2000 victory over Scotland.

Police made 170 arrests after violent scuffles in Glasgow's city centre following England's 2-0 first-leg win at Hampden Park on Saturday. All the alleged offenders were due to appear at Glasgow Sheriff's Court today.

This has intensified the spotlight on Wednesday night's deciding match between the two sides at Wembley, which will be policed by 1,000 officers.

Fighting broke out after Saturday's game as a group of England fans were being ejected from a pub in Buchanan Street, in Glasgow's city centre.

Dozens of rival supporters fought running battles and hurled missiles at each other, scattering Saturday afternoon shoppers, before police arrived to make arrests.

Though events inside the stadium passed off relatively peacefully, 23 arrests were made there. There were also skirmishes at the central railway station, and at several pubs and clubs across the city centre as fans watched the game on television. Fourteen people were taken to hospital, but none was believed to be seriously injured.

John Orr, the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, yesterday played down the violence. "Considering the rivalry and tension that exists between the supporters and the large number of people in and around the city, the policing of the event was very successful," he said.

"It is quite clear the vast majority of supporters behaved in a responsible manner and I hope that the Scottish supporters going to the return match behave in the manner that is expected of them."

Scotland's largest police operation for a sporting event helped to contain the trouble. Witnesses reported that officers were on the scene almost immediately when the violence flared in Buchanan Street.

However, the fighting will have added to the concern surrounding Wednesday's deciding match, which had already been earmarked as top priority by police because of the political sensibilities surrounding England's 2006 World Cup bid.

Any major incident could end England's interest in staging the tournament.

Hooliganism continues to dog English fans abroad, and is seen as one of the England bid's biggest Achilles' heels. At England's last Euro 2000 qualifying tie against Poland two months ago in Warsaw, English fans were involved in a series of fights inside the stadium in front of Sepp Blatter, president of the sport's governing body, Fifa.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police and the National Criminal Intelligence Services travelled to Scotland at the weekend to observe known trouble- makers.

Their information will be used in preparation for Wednesday's game, when plain-clothes officers will mingle with fans in the stadium in an attempt to spot hooligans before any trouble erupts.

They will also be following events closely on closed-circuit television monitors, which will beam back pictures from an extensive network of cameras in and around the ground.

The 1,000 officers on duty will include several hundred in the ground, hundreds more patrolling the approaches to the stadium and others who will be on call should there be a serious outbreak of hooliganism.

Feelings will be running particularly high at Wednesday's game because only the victor goes forward to the 16-nation European championship finals in Belgium and the Netherlands next summer.

The Scottish side faces a daunting task in overhauling England's advantage from the first leg, gained through two first-half strikes from the Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes.