`It casts a shadow over England'

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POLITICIANS and football officials were last night unanimous in their condemnation of violent clashes between English and Tunisian fans.

But they were keen to play down suggestions that England should drop out of the tournament because of the trouble.

The England coach, Glenn Hoddle, said: "Fans are ambassadors, just like us. We prepared well for this World Cup and we do not want any distractions off the field."

The Minister for Sport,Tony Banks, said: "What we have seen and heard so far involves drunken, brain-dead louts who seem determined to disgrace both the English team and their country.

"Tragically, it is the actions of the moronic minority that ruin the reputation of English supporters. I only hope other countries judge us on the good behaviour of the great majority of decent fans, not the actions of the louts."

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alan Beith said: "I am appalled at the behaviour of a minority of hooligans. It is casting a grim shadow over England's World Cup ambitions and making the vast majority of football fans thoroughly ashamed."

The Football Association's security adviser, Sir Brian Hayes, said in Marseilles: "We can condemn it absolutely. I want to say that despite the damage these are a tiny minority."

Asked if England should pull out of the tournament, he said: "That's absolute rubbish, the England team are here as of right, this is nothing to do with football, this is just sheer hooliganism and drunkenness."