England's match in Spain this week passed in relative peace. Only a couple of bars were ransacked and just a handful of miscreants were required to stay overnight as guests of the Spanish government. A match meaningful enough to inspire misplaced patriotism, involving the more violent Germans, Italians or Dutch, might have resulted in mayhem, however. The Americans are opening their arms to football by hosting the 1994 World Cup, but do they know what they are letting themselves in for?
'What we are relying on is the way fans react to sport over here,' John Griffin, a press officer for World Cup USA, said. 'Rather than get involved in hooliganism, hopefully the European fans will see that they can sit back, enjoy the game and not worry about results. Just enjoy the event and see what happens.'
These comments smack of navety borne of the United States' lack of exposure to football. When they are compounded by the news that Dallas will hold an arts festival in conjunction with the tournament and that none of the nine venues has any form of supporter segregation at present, the natural response is to fear for everyone involved.
But maybe the Americans are not as innocent as they seem. Griffin expressed surprise at the softly-softly methods employed by Swedish police during the European Championship, implying New York and Chicago's finest might be less tolerant, before adding: 'We had observers in Italy for the last World Cup so we are well aware of the hooligan problem. We've seen it first- hand. We are already working with three levels of government - local, state and federal - and there will be an announcement in the next two or three weeks when we will set up our own security department.
'What people forget is that this is not America's World Cup but Fifa's tournament that they have allowed us to hold in the United States. We will conform to whatever regulations Fifa has in place. If Fifa insists on crowd segregation I can assure you there will be crowd segregation.'
Griffin also points out that economics and geography will count against a mass meeting of hooligans in the Midwest, even if all the expected 1.5m visitors turn up. 'This is a big place, there is a three-hour time difference from east to west coast. We won't be able to track everyone 24 hours a day, but it counts in our favour, too.
'It's not easy for fans to go to Los Angeles tomorrow and back to Chicago the day after. You can't just get a train to these places, you have to get a plane and it's not a one-hour jump either. You are looking at two and a half hours down to Orlando and five hours to LA and San Francisco. Also it's probably cheaper to fly New York-London most times than it is to the west coast.'
But the Americans may not have to cope with British supporters at all. After the midweek results there is no guarantee and not much more confidence that either England or Scotland will qualify for the tournament.
Fears that the World Cup will be played before half-empty stadiums may be misplaced. There will be 3.5m seats on sale for the 1994 tournament and more than 2.5m Americans have registered interest in tickets. This is before foreign football associations have been approached. 'To have this many people 20 months before the event starts is very encouraging,' a World Cup USA spokesman said.Reuse content