Cross-border hooliganism raises fears for World Cup

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Fears that violence will overshadow next year's World Cup in Germany were raised yesterday as police investigated a secret battle between 100 hooligans near Berlin.

The violence broke out on Sunday afternoon between known troublemakers from Berlin and around 50 hooligans who chartered a bus to make the 60-mile journey across the border from Poland.

German anti-hooliganism police had been tipped off but arrived too late to prevent the fight, which took place in woodland in Briesen off the motorway linking Berlin and Poland. Hooligans who suffered cuts and bruises refused medical treatment and police were unable to make any arrests as they had not witnessed the violence and those injured refused to bring charges.

Some 45 German hooligans belonged to the "north-east faction" and included known ringleaders from Berlin, Cottbus, Magdeburg, and Dresden, according to police.

It is thought that among the Germans was Karl-Heinz Elschner, notorious as a ringleader of a group of hooligans who beat up a French policeman during the 1998 World Cup in France, leaving him wheelchair-bound.

Sunday's fight strengthens concerns among hooligan experts about the potential for violence from Poland next summer. Football authorities and police are hoping that Poland will not be in the same group as Germany when the World Cup draw is made in Leipzig on 9 December.

Gunter Pilz, a hooligan expert from Hanover University, said: "It's not surprising that this fight happened but the fact that it could be organised across a border. Polish fans normally restrict themselves to spreading fear in their own leagues but this is the first time they have left a calling card in Germany."

The Germans involved were not exclusively football hooligans, but also night-club bouncers and Hell's Angels, a police spokesman added.