A Chelsea supporter was detained by police yesterday after a Belgian fan was stabbed during fighting in Bruges during fighting that broke out before the London club's European Cup-Winners' Cup quarter-final first leg against Club Bruges. The victim was taken to hospital but was only slightly injured.
Belgian police said the incident took place a few hundred yards away from the Olympiastadion and within hours of the kick-off of the potentially high-risk tie despite a conspicuous police presence.
About 40 Chelsea fans had been detained in the town earlier in the day after they had been found not to have valid tickets for the match. Police turned back a number of fans at the port of Ostend after the Belgian interior minister ruled that those not having a match ticket could be deported. An Ostend police spokesman said: "Many of them had forged tickets for the game, others had no ticket at all."
Nearly 500 English fans hadbeen sent home by that stage. Police said some 90 Chelsea supporters had been arrested since Sunday, and three Germans with possible extremist links were also being held. The English fans were arrested mainly for vandalism and drunkenness. "Some smashed up their hotel room," a police spokeswoman said.
The Germans who were arrested came from Hanover and were suspected of being members of a hard-core hooligan gang called "the Head Hunters," the chief commissioner of the Bruges police, Roger De Bree, said.
This was the first overseas trip for English football fans since rioting forced the abandonment of a friendly international between the Republic of Ireland and England in Dublin this month.
A police spokesman said no other new violent incidents had been reported. Bruges, known as the "Venice of the North" because of its canals was crammed with police patrols, some on horseback, and a police helicopter flew over the centre of the town to film any incidents or trouble makers.
Dozens of Chelsea fans, most of them holding glasses of beer and some clearly drunk, were standing quietly outside pubs. A Chelsea football club flag unfurled in front of a statue in one of the main market squares was quickly put away when one of the police patrols approached the fans.
Inhabitants of Bruges and holidaymakers seemed undeterred by the presence of the English fans and police on the streets and went about their business as usual. Commissioner De Bree, admitted it was much too early to say whether their measures worked. "I won't relax before tomorrow midday," he said.
They had been presented with some unexpected problems. For instance, on Monday they had to eject about 30 English supporters who had sneaked in to the Olympiastadion, possibly with the intention of hiding themselves in the ground in an attempt to watch the match without paying for a ticket.
Chelsea were allocated 2,162 tickets for the game and most of those fans travelled with the official party through the French port of Calais, to be transported by coach to Bruges. Police planned to escort them from the moment they arrived until their departure, which was scheduled for last night, soon after the match finished.
Serge Muhmenthaler, the Swiss match referee, relieved the authorities of further potential complications by declaring the previously waterlogged Olympiastadion pitch playable after a morning inspection.
Problems involving English fans are a sensitive issue in Belgium, following the Heysel stadium tragedy, 10 years ago in May, when crowd trouble before Liverpool's European Champions' Cup final against Juventus left 39 people dead.
After the problems in Ireland had signalled an apparent return of hooliganism among English travelling fans, Belgian police started their planning early and vowed to be ready for any trouble that might develop. They drew up plans that involved mobilising more than 500 officers, and in addition, Chelsea were supplying 78 stewards to monitored their official party of supporters.
The Football Association had hoped that the Chelsea match would pass off without incidents to take the wind out of those critics who had begun to question whether next year's European Championship should go ahead as planned in England.
Tensions rose over the weekend when it became clear some 800 forged tickets for the game had been sold in England. This could compromise segregation inside the stadium, which is an essential element in policing. After the riot in Dublin, the police in Belgium had to be sure that they could prevent opposing fans from being mixed together in the stands. Events immediately before the match had done nothing to discourage that view.
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