Rioting fans shame England

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of England fans were being deported from Belgium today after being detained last night as rioting continued in the host cities of the Euro 2000 Championships. Clashes between rival supporters in the square of Charleroi, where England played Germany last night, led to a further 450 arrests to add to the 400 after Friday's violence in Brussels.

Hundreds of England fans were being deported from Belgium today after being detained last night as rioting continued in the host cities of the Euro 2000 Championships. Clashes between rival supporters in the square of Charleroi, where England played Germany last night, led to a further 450 arrests to add to the 400 after Friday's violence in Brussels.

Police said that 150 were held before the match and 300 during it. They were due to be expelled from the country this morning as they can only be held for up to 12 hours.

Major Michel Rompen, spokesman for the local gendarmerie, said: "We want to get rid of them as quickly as possible."

The Home Secretary Jack Straw was quick to condemn "the appalling behaviour of some individuals from the UK posing as 'fans' of English football". He is expected to make a statement to the Commons tomorrow.

It is understood that the identities of those involved will be passed to the Football Association with the intention that they be banned from attending any football matches in the future. Their identities will also be passed to the police.

Mr Straw may well be asked to explain a statement from the National Criminal Intelligence Service to the Independent on Sunday which blamed the rioting on "fairly normal lads" - not hardcore hooligans. The service, which has been advising the Belgians on potential trouble-makers, said that most of the hundreds of young English men arrested had no previous connection with football violence. Rather, they were ordinary fans who had too much to drink, a spokesman said.

The two days of trouble from England fans may well prove to be the end of any hopes of the country staging the 2006 World Cup. The former Sports Minister Tony Banks, who yesterday returned from Trinidad where he had been promoting England's bid, said the culture of violence was permeating football everywhere, but added: "Obviously it is not helpful to our World Cup bid."

As kick-off approached last night the first of many plane-loads of deportees arrived at Manchester airport, the 40 passengers in hand-cuffs. They were met by British Transport Police and shepherded on to trains. Another 303 were still to come, while 31 people had been kept in custody in Belgium and were likely to face charges.

In the main square at Charleroi, where England and Germany fans had gathered, taunts exchanged across the fountains turned to blows. Café chairs and cans were thrown as mounted police rode into the crowds, then black armoured cars arrived firing water cannons. Some supporters were chased into side streets and one group took refuge in a bar and refused to leave as it was besieged by helmeted riot police wielding shields and batons.

Years of planning by police, football authorities and intelligence services on either side of the Channel had come to nothing, as the violence they all dreaded happened anyway. An estimated 10,000 England supporters arrived in Charleroi last night without tickets for the match. The 3,000 police officers on duty had orders to let them drink half-strength beer, sing their songs and have fun - but were to come down hard on any trouble. Instead of organised rioting, this was the drunken fisticuffs of the kind seen in English towns at closing time.

Mark Steels of the National Criminal Intelligence Service said the Belgian authorities had been given more information about potential trouble-makers by England than by any other country. "We supplied them with lists of convicted and suspected hooligans, and many of them were banned from entering the country at all. But unfortunately intelligence can only do so much."

Members of the fascist group Combat 18 were among the 60 or so English supporters turned back from the borders of Belgium, Holland, and Germany since the tournament began. Mr Steels said of the disturbances in Brussels: "A load of lads decided to get drunk and go on the rampage." The perpetrators were not the far-right hooligans but "probably just fairly normal lads who have [got] on a ferry with their mates, drink too much and then let themselves get caught up in the trouble."

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