England may be expelled over riots

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The Independent Online

England could be thrown out of the Euro 2000 football championship if there is a repeat of the violence that marred Saturday's victory over Germany, the tournament's organisers Uefa warned last night.

England could be thrown out of the Euro 2000 football championship if there is a repeat of the violence that marred Saturday's victory over Germany, the tournament's organisers Uefa warned last night.

The stark warning came as the British Government was forced to confront the political fall-out of the running street skirmishes in Belgium on Friday and Saturday, with critics accusing it of failing to prevent hooligans from travelling abroad.

Expulsion of a national football team for the behaviour of its fans is unprecedented. The warning, issued after an emergency meeting, also probably sounds the death-knell for England's hopes of hosting the 2006 World Cup. A decision will be made on that next month.

The president of Uefa, Lennart Johansson, said last night: "If it happens again like it did last night it is over for England. This cannot go on. It will kill football."

After the emergency meeting Uefa's chief executive, Gerhard Aigner, said: "Uefa will have to determine whether the presence of the English team in the tournament should be maintained should there be a repetition of similar incidents."

Mr Aigner said the behaviour of the English hooligans over the last 48 hours "had left a scar on our tournament and left us wondering why more was not done to prevent them travelling. The fans cannot be allowed to behave like this again and create havoc.

"The UK government owes it to everyone concerned to take steps similar to those taken in other countries to stop those troublesome fans from travelling abroad."

Mr Johansson, described the English hooligans as "a disgrace" and said the British Government had not done enough to prevent them from travelling to the tournament. He referred to the involvement of Liverpool fans in the deaths at the Heysel stadium in Brussels in 1985 and warned that more people could be killed unless action was taken.

"I think that the world expects us to take a stand for what has happened. We cannot forget what happened in Heysel. We cannot ignore the incidents in Istanbul and Copenhagen, and specifically not what has happened in Charleroi and Brussels," he said.

Later he told The Independent the new focus on English hooliganism should not affect the bid to host the 2006 World Cup and he hoped the warning would prevent more trouble.

Alain Courtois, the director of Euro 2000, said: "How can these people leave an island without being intercepted? Obviously there has to have been a very lax attitude from the British Government."

Kevin Miles, co-ordinator of the fans' embassies run by the Football Supporters' Association at the tournament, said Uefa's threat "punished the innocent" and criticised Belgian police tactics. "There can be few methods of policing less precise than firing tear gas into a crowded pub and arresting everyone who emerges."

David Davies, the Football Association executive director, said he wanted an urgent meeting with Uefa to discuss to what extent a football association was responsible for trouble away from a stadium. No FA representatives were at Uefa's meeting before it issued its threat, he added.

Tony Blair will apologise for the weekend's violence when he meets Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian Prime Minister, at the European Union summit in Portugal. Mr Blair said last night he backed Uefa's stance.

A total of 824 England fans were arrested by Belgian police, most for minor offences such as not having identity documents with them, and 400 were deported after Saturday night's 1-0 victory over Germany in Charleroi. Thirty-two fans face charges.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, said yesterday that barristers and engineers were among those escorted back to England on Belgian military aircraft and Channel ferries.

Police used water cannon to disperse fans hurling bottles and chairs in Charleroi before the game on Saturday. Yet 350 arrested fans were released without charge, leaving them free to attend England's game against Romania tomorrow.

Mr Straw, due to make a statement on the violence to the House of Commons today, promised he would "actively consider" new powers to ban hooligans from travelling abroad. He said that none of the first 200 sent back to Britain had convictions for football violence or was known to the National Criminal Intelligence Service.

A Home Office minister, Lord Bassam of Brighton, said the Government did not accept it was at fault over the violence.

William Hague, the Conservative Party leader, accused the Government of ignoring calls to tighten the law to prevent troublemakers from travelling abroad.

Calls for tougher powers to withhold passports were made by the former sports minister Tony Banks and Sir Bobby Charlton, a leader in England's bid to hold the 2006 World Cup.

England fans kept a low profile in the centre of Brussels last night, drinking quietly in bars around the Grand Place.