Toulouse gets prepared for the onslaught

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The Independent Online
THE HEADLINE of the local paper, La Depeche du Midi, could not have been more striking. "Mobilisation against the football hooligans," it read. "Toulouse on a state of alert."

Beneath the headline was a photograph of muscular, plain-clothed policemen, armed with batons and more, waiting at the train station for the arrival of the English supporters.

But yesterday afternoon Toulouse did not appear to be a city on a state of alert. The cafes and restaurants around the Place du Capitole were heaving and the city's wide tree-lined streets were full of people going about their business. If the people of Toulouse were feeling an onslaught of English hooligans, they were not showing it.

"There is a sense of quiet determination to organise things so that people are not disrupted too much," said the British Consul General for Southwest France, James Rawlinson.

At a sandwich shop in the centre of the city, the man behind the counter shrugged when asked if he expected there to be violence from English fans arriving to watch the game against Romania on Monday. "Who knows," he said. "Yes, people are aware the English are coming to town and I think there is some concern."

Local authorities have been making preparations to avoid a repeat of Marseilles. The mayor of Toulouse, Dominique Baudis, has postponed the annual music festival while the head of the police has called in reinforcements and ordered all bars and restaurants in the city to shut at 11pm from tonight until Tuesday. This is in stark contrast to police in Marseilles, who originally allowed bars to remain open until 4am.

There have been reports that up to 2,000 English supporters are already in Toulouse, but if they are, they are keeping well hidden. A Union Jack, draped from ahotel window, was noticeable in its singularity, but perhaps gave a flavour of what is to come.

Many supporters may have been forced to stay outside the city, at one of four campsites, because of a lack of hotel accommodation. "We have not seen many English people here so far," said a spokeswoman for the tourist information centre. "We are expecting most to arrive over the weekend as the game approaches." Estimates suggest that up to 10,000 English fans will be in town by kick-off on Monday night.

Police, however, are hopeful that there will be no violence. A British police source, who is liaising with the French authorities, said the general approach had not changed since Marseilles. Spotter teams will be on the streets trying to pick out troublemakers. "Of course there are lessons you learn as you go along," he said.

Many observers point out that Toulouse is a very different city to Marseilles and may not contain some of the ingredients for potential violence. Prosperous and middle-class, Toulouse is more interested in rugby than football and there is not the same size of north African community, members of which were involved in the Marseilles violence.