Euro 96 'heading for violence'

Football hooliganism: Psychologists warn players' rowdiness and beef war raising antagonism
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Reports that members of the England football team allegedly caused criminal damage on a Cathay Pacific jet might feed crowd violence at Euro 96 games, psychologists warned yesterday.

On the eve of Britain's most prestigious sports event for 30 years, the psychologists warned that, for a tiny minority, recent events - including the "beef war", with its anti-European overtones - would bolster "their idea of what it means to be British", with potentially disastrous consequences.

Their comments strengthen criticisms of the England team by Malcolm George, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, who is charged with policing Euro 96.

The allegations of criminal damage on the Cathay Pacific flight as the England players returned from a recent Far East tour "did not help" his role in heading off hooliganism, he said earlier this week.

Dr Stephen Reicher, a senior lecturer in psychology at Exeter University and a specialist in crowd behaviour, said yesterday: "We are going to war over beef semen . . . and there is one sector that will gain from the xenophobic and racist commentary it has produced."

The Cathay Pacific allegations would also "influence the mechanisms" of part of the football crowd, he said.

Dr Reicher also attacked coverage of the championship which, he said, had concentrated on the "hooligan perspective and invading hordes" who could wreck the event.

"To focus in an unbalanced way on the hooligan element is dangerous," he said. "It might alienate those [in the crowd] who are against conflict and persuade them to side with those who are in conflict."

The perception of crowds as "mad mobs" where individuals lost all sense of identity and control was wrong, Dr Reicher said; being part of a crowd could serve to restrain individuals with violent tendencies.

Dr Gerry Finn, a reader in the department of educational studies at Strathclyde University who has researched football and football crowds, urged Euro 96 fans to adopt the "carnivalesque" style of support pioneered by supporters of Scotland after criticism of their less than frivolous behaviour in the early 1980s.

"Carnivalesque fans are inclusive in their approach to others and attempt to involve opposition fans and local residents in boisterous, friendly exchange," he said.

"Scottish fans are believed to act as ambassadors for Scotland. It is important to recognise the potential for change amongst football fans."

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