English fans `show they are true football lovers'

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THEY WERE busy clearing up the streets in Toulouse yesterday morning. Thankfully, it was not broken bottles and broken heads they were sweeping up, but damaged fruit and vegetables from the street market in the Boulevard de Strasbourg. Life is getting back to normal, and despite a few days when the English were in town, Toulouse has escaped the violence suffered by Marseilles.

The local newspaper, sounding hugely relieved, reported: "The magnificent English fans showed last night they are true lovers of football."

The next test, in the northern town of Lens, is on Friday. French military police have already stepped up security, although a spokesman said the English did not appear to have the same "nasty streak" as the Germans who rioted in the city on Sunday. But he said of the English: "We do not know whether the supporters will behave as they did at Marseilles or Toulouse."

His comments came as an unnamed 17-year-old German thug described how a French gendarme was kicked and battered with a beer bottle and a rifle butt. He remains in a deep coma and may be handicapped for life. He is the worst victim so far of the violence which has marred this World Cup. One of his attackers was quoted in one of Germany's biggest newspapers, Bild, yesterday, gloating about the violence in which the officer was hurt. "Anybody who wasn't German got thumped,' he said as he described how 50 thugs cornered just three policemen.

In contrast, England's match in Toulouse passed with relatively few incidents. James Rawlinson, the British Consul General in South-West France, said he believed there were four key reasons why Toulouse suffered only minor trouble.

"The Prefect, Alain Bidou, (the Government official charged with overseeing law and order) decided that bars should shut at 11pm, that they should serve beer in plastic glasses and that garages and shops should not sell alcohol after11pm."

The decision made late-night Toulouse a virtual ghost town. Both on Sunday night and after Monday night's match, there were thousands of (largely sober) England supporters milling around but with nowhere to go. Not even McDonald's was open. It meant that people had nothing to do other than go the central square and sing. As most of them didn't know any Romanian victory songs, they soon got pretty bored and went home after an hour.

The second reason was the approach of the police. Police in Toulouse were deployed to be high-profile but discreet. It meant you might not see any police for 20 minutes and than 10 truck loads of riot officers would drive past as if to remind people they were there.

Another factor was the differences between Toulouse and Marseilles, said Mr Rawlinson.Toulouse is prosperous, calm, Anglophile and rugby- loving while Marseilles is a melting pot of cultures, suffers from high- crime and high unemployment and has a large North African population who feel aggrieved at the way they are treated by the authorities.

Many observers agree the final reason relates to those "magnificent English fans", the real fans who did not want to be tarred with the same brush as those who caused the trouble in Marseilles.