Football: Give police power to 'man-mark'

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The Independent Online
There are many important things to hope for and look forward to in football for the New Year. The bringing to book of those named in the bungs report as having abused the game's integrity, for example; the encouragement of more attacking football; and promotion to the Doc Martens Premier Division for Weymouth.

Above all, though, we must all wish for a trouble-free World Cup, and the Home Secretary's reminder last week of the power available to the courts to restrict convicted hooligans from travelling to next summer's finals by making them, say, report to police stations at the kick-off time of an England match was a welcome start.

Naturally enough, Jack Straw's comments drew criticism. The real issue, said the Football Supporters' Association, is proper organisation. But then again, one fearful officer of the minority FSA once told me he had to be very careful of what he said in public about hooligans as they knew where he lived.

What is proper organisation, anyway? The availability of bars in the proximity of stadiums? In the more significant matters of ticketing and transport, the last World Cup in the United States was well organised and there is no reason to suppose this one will be worse. Save for one difference; the presence of English undesirables, who create an altogether different mood.

A more valid criticism has come from the football unit of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Offenders can only be dealt with, they say, after breaking the restriction order. They can, they point out, watch potential miscreants depart Heathrow several hours before the appointed time of reporting but are powerless to take action.

Perhaps Mr Straw could introduce legislation to modify the Football Spectators Act accordingly, so that the police do have powers to detain the subject of a restriction order where it looks probable that it will be broken.

Alternatively if that is not feasible between now and June, it being only France and the costs bearable, known hooligans who are still travelling could be "man-marked" by English police, in co-operation with their French counterparts.

Mr Straw's suggestion of a summit on hooliganism for European police forces at Blackburn - he is, incidentally, a Rovers fan - also makes sense but will need delicate handling. The English assumption that we know best was a contributory factor in upsetting the baton-happy Italian police in Rome last October.

Football intelligence services in Britain do know, however, who are the hard-core troublemakers. The doubting Sports Minister Tony Banks says that these people will be on their best behaviour between now and June so as not to jeopardise their presence in France. But a close watch could yet yield convictions and - this being simply Mr Straw's point - the under-used restriction order is available. Staggeringly, in the last eight years, only 10 have been imposed.

It is said that Mr Straw's initiative comes from personal experience. And indeed anyone who has been in proximity to certain English supporters abroad - as Dublin '95 proved, more of them than might be imagined and often incited by the hard-core - will understand his desire to do something.

Not just abroad, in fact. Euro 96 was largely seen as a great festival but have we forgotten the scenes of drunken violence in Trafalgar Square? Or the Russian student who was mistaken for a German and stabbed after England's semi-final defeat? Sometimes you wonder how far we have come since hanging monkeys for the crime of being a Frenchman. Criticise Mr Straw by all means, but then come up with something better instead.

IT'S a fair cop. Libero admits that it was he who blew the fuse at Selhurst Park last Monday, having had a fiver on the Wimbledon v Arsenal match being abandoned at half-time due to floodlight failure. Bookies being bookies and with the frequency of this kind of thing, the trouble was he only got odds of 4-6.

DAVID GINOLA'S outstanding two-goal performance against Barnsley eight days ago drew only faint praise from the Tottenham coach Christian Gross, who felt that the Frenchman can do still better. It recalled the observation that managers love a player to express his individuality as long as he does exactly what they say. Ginola, incidentally, was refusing interviews last week "because it is Christmas". To heck with any duty. Still, at least he signed an autograph for Libero's Spurs-supporting son. Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee, David.

AT THE Spurs v Barnsley match, incidentally, several in the press box could have sworn they saw a linesman's yellow and orange flag raised as Allan Nielsen scored Tottenham's first goal. Actually, two stewards, one in a yellow coat, one in orange, stood at the moment in question. It is possible that defenders could also be similarly fooled momentarily, so should not the colour of the flags be reconsidered?

It would also help for identification purposes if the linos carried distinguishing flags rather than the same design - as suggested here before, they should be outed if they fail to give attackers the benefit of the doubt in offside decisions - even if the problem did not occur at Spurs as Wendy Toms was running one line. Libero has reluctantly to admit that the new job description of "assistant referee" begins to make sense.

SEVERAL club chairmen have been observed jetting to Caribbean climes or sloping off on the piste for Christmas breaks. They have probably been known to insist in the past when criticised by their club's supporters that they, too, are fans. In which case, surely they know that no true fan wants to miss his club's holiday programme, which can often contain a derby and be pivotal to the season?