Lens braced for England fan onslaught

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The Independent Online
AS THE England football team prepares for its most important match yet of this World Cup, police are standing by for a game which presents the greatest potential for hooliganism.

Up to 35,000 England supporters are expected to arrive in Lens by the time tonight's game with Colombia kicks off in the Felix-Bollaert stadium. England need at least a draw to proceed to the next round.

A 24-hour alcohol ban has been imposed in bars and restaurants in Lens, Calais and surrounding areas starting from 8am today and shops and supermarkets within a 30-mile radius have been asked not to sell alcohol. A decision about the bars in Lille was due to be made last night. Drinking in the street will be illegal.

Dave West, proprietor of the EastEnders beer and wine supermarket in Calais, which has been ordered to stop sales, said: "This is the worst decision the French have made since Napoleon invaded Russia." The ferry companies have also been told by the French authorities that anyone arriving from England with a car laden with alcohol will be put on the next ferry back. Six people were sent back yesterday.

"It's business as usual onboard the ferries in terms of the bars being open and the duty-free sales," said a spokesman for SeaFrance. P&O/Stena has also said it will be selling alcohol unless there were any problems. Both companies are fully booked.

British police admit that among the thousands of fans there will be a number of known hooligans - the Category C trouble-makers - trying to get to Lens. While the National Criminal Intelligence Service's football unit has increased its number of specialist spotters to 22 to try to identify hooligans and have them expelled from France, there is an acceptance that some may slip through the net. "We will be monitoring a number of people who may be intending to travel," said a spokesman. "But even before the World Cup we said Lens had a potential all of its own."

There is also concern that German neo-Nazi hooligans who ran riot in Lens earlier this week and left a French policeman on a life-support machine, will return to fight the English. A team of German police spotters will also be on hand.

Last week the Mayor of Lens, Andre Delilis, said he was convinced that the town would not suffer as Marseilles had because it did not have a "population of delinquents". That was before the rioting after the Germany- Yugoslavia match when up to 600 Category C German hooligans went on the rampage. Fourteen suspected German hooligans were detained in France.

Six English fans were arrested last night after trouble flared in the Grand Place in Lille. Police said four north Africans had also been arrested in the disturbance.

Later trouble flared near the station where England fans were drinking in three bars.

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