Murder charge over football fan's death

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DETECTIVES investigating the death of a Fulham fan last night charged a 30-year-old man with his murder, as politicians, police chiefs and figures in football administration expressed concern that the game was slipping back to a "dark age" of violence and intimidation, writes Kim Sengupta.

Kent police released two men they had been holding over the death of Matthew Fox but charged Barry Andrew Cullen, from Kent, who was due to appear before Medway magistrates in Chatham this morning. Mr Fox's death outside Gillingham football ground during a weekend of disturbances at football grounds across the country sparked a wider debate about the return of football hooliganism and the damage it may do to the prospect of England hosting the World Cup in 2006.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, expressed "profound anger" over the re- emergence of violence and said the police and football authorities would do all they could to ensure it was "heavily clamped down on".

Speaking in the Commons, he also pointed to potential scope for violence in the World Cup, and criticised the marketing of knives branded by the Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) for the World Cup in France which could be used as weapons by troublemaking fans.

Mr Straw also offered his "deepest sympathy" to the family and friends of Mr Fox and said the Commons would also wish to express its anger over the re-emergence of "this sort of football hooliganism".

The sports minister, Tony Banks, insisted the events had "not damaged at all" the 2006 World Cup bid. "These isolated very tragic events, which the police will deal with, are not the true face of English football. There are still those who turn up at football grounds who should never be allowed in there."

Fifa, however, refused to say whether the trouble would harm England's bid. A spokesman said the results of the investigation into what happened at Gillingham will have to be carefully studied.

Meanwhile, the family of Mr Fox visited the Fulham ground at Craven Cottage and spoke of their loss, and their son's passion for the team.

In a statement read by the club chaplain Gary Piper, they said: "To say we are devastated does not even begin to describe how we are feeling. He loved all sports but his main passion was his love for Fulham ... where he could often be heard singing at the top of his voice." They added that it would have been Mr Fox's 25th birthday today. However, there were claims last night that Mr Fox had links with a group of known soccer thugs. Sources said Mr Fox was allegedly involved with a hardcore of hooligans operating among supporters of the London club and was known to law enforcement authorities working in the area of football violence. Fulham's director of football, Kevin Keegan, speaking on behalf of of the club owner Mohamed Al Fayed and all players and staff, said: "This is an appalling tragedy and a pointless loss of a young life."