Dirty, drunk and from England. Japan delivers its verdict on how to spot a football hooligan

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The Independent Online

For the people of Saitama, the draw for the 2002 World Cup should have been a day of pride and celebration. For ten years, the city – an uncharismatic commuter colony 12 miles north of Tokyo – had campaigned to be a host of the prestigious tournament.

For the people of Saitama, the draw for the 2002 World Cup should have been a day of pride and celebration. For ten years, the city – an uncharismatic commuter colony 12 miles north of Tokyo – had campaigned to be a host of the prestigious tournament.

An immaculate news stadium had been built at a cost of 87 billion yen (£460m). Sculptures of miniature soccer balls and cute bronze mascots were erected all over the town.

On the Saturday night that the fixtures were announced, excited fans and sports officials gathered in front of a big screen at the local bullet train station.

There was delight when it was announced the national team, Japan, would be coming to play Belgium on 4 June. There was polite enthusiasm about the fixture between Cameroon and Saudi Arabia.

But then Saitama's luck ran out. On 2 June, for their opening fixture against Sweden, the city had drawn the team that no one in Japan wanted: England.

"It's difficult to explain," said Akira Honzawa, an official at the Saitama City Hall. "There are people who know football well, and when they think of England they will think of Beckham and Owen. But when most Saitama citizens heard about that match, their immediately thought was the word 'hooligan'."

Since then, they have thought of little else. For their second game in the first found, England will meet their old enemies, Argentina, in the northern city of Sapporo on 7 June, followed by Nigeria in Osaka five days later.

And, in all three cities, excitement about the tournament and the commercial opportunities that it provides is mingled with frank trepidation.

An elderly gentleman named Yukiteru Funami, in front of the big World Cup signboard at one of Saitama's railway stations, said: "People are worried because we don't have any experience of this kind of thing.

"I don't know what will happen when the day comes. What do the Japanese know about hooligans?"

Since the formation of the domestic J-league in 1993, football has become well established here but the typical Japanese football crowd has as much in common with its European or South American equivalent as a flock of lambs does with a herd of stampeding wildebeest. Stadium violence is unknown; Japanese fans are mild, appreciative and exquisitely well-behaved – at the 1998 World Cup tournament in France, they became famous for voluntarily clearing up the litter at the ground after each of their team's games.

The consequence is that behaviour which in Europe would be regarded as no more than rowdily high-spirited seems, to many Japanese, menacingly violent. England is not the only international side with a history of crowd violence but to the average person the association is automatic.

"Rough manners," Mr Funami said, when asked to describe his image of what Japanese refer to as fuurigan. "Dirty clothes, drunk. And from England."

To a country with virtually no violent crime of any kind, the prospect of an invasion of foreign berserkers is deeply alarming. Mr Honzawa at the City Hall said: "People are much less worried by terrorism than by hooligans. They ring up and ask, 'How many hooligans will be coming? 'How much damage will there be?' It's difficult to give them a precise answer." All over Japan, similar anxious questions are going unanswered so far.

In Osaka, perhaps unwisely, police visited local shopkeepers and showed them videos of the hooligan violence from the 1998 tournament in France.

Now some local businesses are considering shutting up altogether. Two hundred Osaka shop owners are chipping in 5000 yen (£26) each to buy hooligan insurance, which covers them for damage up to 10 million yen (£53,000). Masato Hamanaka, of the Saitama Chamber of Commerce, said: "People are saying there's one group of local businesses who'll definitely do well out of the World Cup – the glaziers, because they'll have to repair all the broken windows."

The chances of serious violence are difficult to calculate because this will be a World Cup like none before. Apart from being the first held in Asia, it is the first to be jointly hosted by two countries.

The distance and expense of travel (a 12-hour direct flight from London to Tokyo) will deter many fans, as will Japan's notoriously high cost of living (£4 for a glass of beer).

As many as 800 known troublemakers are expected to have their passports impounded before the tournament under draconian new anti-hooligan legislation.

British police, including police spies known as spotters, will co-operate with the Japanese immigration authorities in barring entry to any who manage to slip through the net. Nonetheless, between 5,000 and 10,000 fans (compared with 25,000 in France in 1998) are expected to make the journey.

Ever since Japan's successful bid, police from the host cities have been travelling to football matches around the world, observing the techniques of their foreign colleagues. A number of local forces have staged "mock riots" in which officers dressed as fuurigan are charged by baton-wielding riot police. In Sapporo, they plan to buy 40 "net guns", which entangle their victims in a 15 foot square of restraining mesh.

As Denis MacShane, the British Foreign Office minister in charge of World Cup matters, said on a visit to Tokyo: "If anyone goes over the line, it won't be a question of saying, 'Naughty boy, get on the plane'. ... They will see the next World Cup in four years' time eating rice in a Japanese prison."

Mr Hamanaka said: "We're trying not to talk too much about hooligans, because people round here worry about them too much. There aren't many skinheads in Saitama, you see, and the danger is that the people here are so anxious they think every one who comes here is a hooligan."

To counteract that dangerous tendency, Saitama recently mounted an experiment in the bullet train station. Five local Britons – expatriate English teachers – were hired to impersonate visiting football fans. For the first half of the show they demonstrated the behaviour of the typical supporter – singing, shouting and staggering.

Mr Kaneko, an official of Saitama Prefecture, who organised the event, said: "The idea was to demonstrate the behaviour of enthusiastic soccer fans," said "We want local people to understand that exuberant behaviour – such as drinking alcohol, painting their faces, and singing songs in loud voices – is quite normal for English sports enthusiasts."

But the second half was quite different as the five young ambassadors sobered up, engaged in a polite dialogue with the audience and taught them English phrases.

"Local citizens were very impressed," said Mr Kaneko, "and I hope that now they will not worry too much.

"It helped them to understand that there is a difference between fans and hooligans, and that, beneath their fantastical behaviour, they are still true English gentlemen."