Only three days before the kick-off of one of Britain's biggest ever sporting events, Malcolm George, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, said last week's allegations of criminal damage against England players on board a Cathay Pacific jet as they returned from a Far East tour "did not help" his role in heading off football hooliganism.
Reprimanding the soccer establishment, Mr George said a change in FA ticketing policy could lead to a violent breakdown of plans to segregate fans. He was speaking after the FA confirmed that unsold tickets for the tournament would be available on matchdays to fans in the eight cities hosting the championships. Privately, officers said that the policy effectively reversed an assurance that tight controls would be imposed on ticket sales to enable police to enforce strict segregation of rival supporters.
Coupled with the availability of tickets on the black market, the latest move would mean police would have to expect "free association" of rival fans on the terraces. "We are concerned because we supported the policy of segregation," said Mr George. "The implications of free association [among fans] are significant because of the potential for violence. It means we will have to be more vigilant, more aware and more skilful." Any breakdown in order would result in the deployment of riot police.
The FA was understood to be holding an emergency meeting yesterday afternoon, but it is reasonable to assume that Mr George's comments about the England players will have been conveyed to senior officials.
On the ticketing issue, a spokesman said last night that the FA would continue to co-ordinate its ticket policy with the police. However, it appeared that tickets would still be sold on match days.
Meanwhile, the courts were yesterday accused of operating a policy of preventative detention when six football fans were remanded in custody on charges of violent disorder.
A lawyer representing one of the suspects said after the hearing that the remands were "politically motivated" by the start of Euro 96 and that he would appeal against them. Among those locked up were a 17-year-old boy accused of throwing three 10p pieces and an 18-year-old who gave himself up.
Seven fans were arrested in high-profile dawn raids by police in London and Essex on Tuesday. They were part of a series of arrests around the country of alleged hooligans in advance of the championships, which begin on Saturday.
James Nichol, a respected civil liberties lawyer, who represented the 17-year-old, said after yesterday's hearing that he believed a policy of preventative detention was in force. "We are dealing with a 17-year-old boy who allegedly threw three coins. He is not a member of a gang, he is not a member of a right- wing racist group - he went there with his friend who is black - and he does not regularly attend football matches.
"I believe he would not normally be remanded in custody for an offence like this. I will be appealing to the Crown Court on Friday to have him released on bail."Reuse content