The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) estimates that out of the 6,000 active and regular hooligans on the books of its football intelligence unit, several hundred form the hard core who are politically aware and have links with groups such as the National Front or the British National Party.
'At the moment, there is some recruitment going on but it is fairly low-profile. These groups like to have the image of conventional political parties and do not like to be seen to be too closely associated with the hooligans. But they are content to know they are there,' said a police source.
British police have already documented the fact that German and Dutch hooligans have taken to wearing clothes emblazoned with the Union Flag as a symbol of die-hard nationalism, rather than their support for the English football team. 'Clearly, they pick up on each other's dress styles at matches or simply by watching each other on the television,' said a senior source.
In Britain, the NCIS is concerned with intelligence on football hooligans and works closely with Special Branch in monitoring their wider political activities. Special Branch officers also track the movements of both ordinary hooligans and those with politically extemist views in and out of the country, a job likely to be made more difficult by the abolition of European border controls.
Supt Adrian Appleby, the head of the football unit, has argued for a hooligan unit to be included in Europol, the planned European criminal intelligence service. The unit could establish a register of hooligans, making it easier to identify those active in racist violence on a pan-European basis.