Football hooligans used Net to arrange battles

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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL VIOLENCE, the once-endemic problem authorities hoped had largely been eradicated, returned with a twist this weekend - the hooligans used the Internet to plan and stage pitched battles then relayed a running commentary about the proceedings.

Terrified families out shopping fled as fans from Millwall and Cardiff clashed in the centre of the Welsh capital in a day of continuous skirmishes. Fourteen people were injured and six arrested.

Police said they had discovered a "level of organisation" behind the troubles. Yesterday officers in Cardiff said six people, aged between 18 and 22, and all from South Wales have been charged with public order offences and will appear in court later this month.

Internet web sites, including one run by self-proclaimed soccer thug Paul Dodd, had been used by the hooligans, and bulletin boards had messages posted regularly through the week before the game, indicating advanced planning.

One message read: " Get ready, Taffies, we are coming to wreck your country. We are also flying the flag of St George, Millwall will run you everywhere".

Another said: "It's kicking off right now as I speak. Has been all morning. Time now 1.45pm. Loadza OB [Old Bill] around. Back soon for an update. Don't miss the tear-up of the year."

Another suggested a rendezvous for any hooligans looking for a fight: "11 o'clock Cardiff Central, where we go from there its up to u (sic)." A Millwall fan threatened: "Let's get this straight. Cardiff are hard as nails, but you are missing the point ... Millwall are coming to town boys."

The police in Cardiff had tried to keep rival groups apart as the chanting visiting fans marched from the main railway station to the ground.

But several gangs peeled away from the main bodies to meet and fight at pre-arranged sites. Police trying to intervene were attacked with glasses, bottles and chairs.

The events of the weekend confirmed police fears that organised gangs of soccer hooligans were turning to modern technology, including computers and mobile phones, to avoid police crackdown. Theannual report by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) had already highlighted the dangers posed by organised gangs of thugs using the Internet.

The report, which also showed the first rise in the number of arrests for football hooliganism in six years, said thugs were becoming more organised in the face of police efforts to stamp out violence in grounds.

Bryan Drew, head of the NCIS strategic and specialist intelligence, said: "Away from the grounds and with activities planned and communicated using mobile phones, pagers and the Internet, the hooligans remain a menace." Later an NCIS spokeswoman said: "The more determined soccer hooligans are becoming more organised, but as they get more advanced so do the police."

In another incident, fighting erupted outside the Madejski Stadium in Reading, Berkshire, as rival fans clashed before the Division Two match between Reading and Bristol City. Police made seven arrests and are investigating an alleged incident between a Bristol City player and a spectator during the first half of the game, won by Reading 2-1.

Chief Superintendent Tom Morrison, in charge of policing the match, said: "There is no doubt that a minority of fans from both sides went to this match with the intention of causing trouble."

More that 100 fans who had travelled from Bristol were escorted from the stadium through the town and to the railway station after the match.

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