Explosive cocktail of soccer and race

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Thousands of Asians in Bradford have been warned to stay behind locked doors this afternoon as the police mount a major security operation to restrain gangs of football hooligans from Leeds.

Thousands of Asians in Bradford have been warned to stay behind locked doors this afternoon as the police mount a major security operation to restrain gangs of football hooligans from Leeds.

Racial tension in West Yorkshire intensified in January when student Sarfraz Najeib, 19, was beaten outside a Leeds nightclub. Three white United football stars were arrested, questioned, then bailed.

A fourth player, who is black, was also questioned after police checked mobile phone records. All four deny being involved, and charges have yet to be brought, although they are due to report to police again on Tuesday.

West Yorkshire Police have made this the biggest racial investigation since the Macpherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence, with more than 30 officers on the case.

In this highly charged atmosphere, Leeds United must play their arch-rivals Bradford City today at Valley Parade for the first time in more than a decade. Community groups in the areas around the ground have advised non-white residents to stay indoors.

Police officers have been drafted in from across West Yorkshire, bringing the total on duty to 260, after reports on the internet indicated that hooligans planned to make trouble at the match.

"We've had reports that Bradford and Leeds fans plan to meet and have a real set to," said Chief Inspector Ray Shepherd. "But we're well prepared. This will be the largest police operation that we've had at Bradford for many a year."

Bradford City has called in all available stewards and will be issuing notices to fans entering the grounds that a zero-tolerance policy will be enforced. Most pubs in the city centre have agreed to close for the afternoon.

Such a local derby was always likely to have the potential for violence, but now neo-Nazis and other racists have expressed support and "respect" for the four Leeds players who were arrested after the beating.

Hooligan sites on the internet, which have been used in the past to organise fights between rival supporters, have been buzzing for at least a week with talk about today's contest, and longer about the attack on Mr Najeib.

Amid the usual obscenities, threats and boasts on these sites have been warnings that Asian gangs were arming themselves, in addition to calls for the two hooligan mobs, the Ointment in Bradford and descendants of the Service Crew in Leeds, to unite against Bradford's non-white community.

"Why don't you join up & cure some of Bradfords social ills instead of battering each other?" urged "baggy anne" in one of the less offensive messages. "I'd gladly join in."

Another thug, calling himself "B.o.o.t.s", said, "We should all join forces and get some white pride."

And under the heading "Cleansing Bradford", a hooligan called simply Dave predicted: "Leeds and Bradford will mob up [unite]. Many other active neo-nazi groups will be on hand."

A confrontation between Asian and hooligan gangs would be potentially explosive, said Detective Constable John Lee, the Force Intelligence Officer for the West Yorkshire Police.

"There's more about this match on the web than I've seen for a while," he said, though he added that such reports are often unreliable.

Marsha Singh, the Labour MP for Bradford West, said he had received an anonymous letter warning of organised infiltration of neo-Nazis into the Leeds supporters attending the game. "I took it seriously and passed it to the police," said Mr Singh.

Bradford City has enjoyed relatively good relations with the Asian community that surrounds its ground since the 1985 stadium fire which killed 56 fans. Residents came out in force to help survivors.

Many games, including a recent one against Arsenal, have seen the police presence reduced to the bare minimum, with none employed inside Valley Parade.

The chairmen of the two clubs, Peter Ridsdale of Leeds and Geoffrey Richmond of Bradford, issued a joint statement last week urging fans to remain peaceful.