Terrorism fears put England on guard

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The Independent Online

There is a shadow hanging over England's Euro 2004 preparations and it is not the prospect of facing Thierry Henry, nor even that of being expelled because of fans' hooliganism. It is the threat of terrorism.

There is a shadow hanging over England's Euro 2004 preparations and it is not the prospect of facing Thierry Henry, nor even that of being expelled because of fans' hooliganism. It is the threat of terrorism.

The security surrounding all 16 teams in Portugal is intense, but British involvement in the war in Iraq and against al-Qa'ida, combined with the presence of high-profile players such as David Beckham in the England squad, has ensured that security around the England team is tightest of all.

While England trained at the Estadio Nacional yesterday, mounted police patrolled the wooden slopes overlooking the pitch. Three rings of steel fence barriers, manned by armed police, fringed the complex and the road running past the ground was closed, adding to Lisbon's interminable traffic problems. The road running past the Solplay Hotel, where the team are staying, is also closed.

For all these facilities the rule is no pass, no entry ­ to anyone. Even the FA's maintenance man was not permitted entry to open the dressing-room toilets, which had been left locked, until he was provided with the right pass. It is hoped that the snakes which inhabit the woods here will also struggle to penetrate this cordon.

At the entrance to the media centre the FA has left a pile of cards. They read: "The Football Association can accept no liability whatsoever in respect of property damage, death or personal injury caused by, or resulting from, acts of terrorism, riot civil commotion or public disturbance howsoever caused." It is a common enough insurance disclaimer, but it has never been spelt out this way at such an event before. When the team bus hits the road all traffic stops; even oncoming vehicles are halted.

Most of the team are used to this sort of security, though not usually at such a high level. At tournaments they live, as Sol Campbell once said, "in the bubble". The Solplay, to borrow Steven Gerrard's description of a previous England hotel, is "a luxury prison".

In such circumstances, boredom becomes an enemy. The hotel already had a small cinema. It has also been kitted out with a games room, featuring electronic toys, pool, football and table-tennis tables, and even a small trampoline. There is also a beauty salon and a pool which has been screened off to deter prying photographers.

"It is good to be in a nice hotel," Michael Owen said yesterday. "Team spirit goes a long way in these types of tournaments and you don't want to be locked away in a room and only coming out for training and meal times. It is important to have good facilities because, hopefully, we'll be here, together, for a month."

Exhaustive logistical planning has gone into this set-up. The media centre itself took six months to organise and a month to build. Construction cost the FA not far short of £20,000. It consists of one vast tent, broken into several "rooms", the largest of which has a huge St George cross woven into the roof.

The impression the FA wishes to give, to its own players as much as anyone, is that England are here for the duration. With a nod to a potential future World Cup bid, there is a separate display dedicated to the new Wembley.

All the players trained yesterday except John Terry, who continues to have intensive treatment on his hamstring strain.

* Fans carrying banned items into stadiums can avoid having them confiscated. Postal workers at the gates will allow people to put items into envelopes or boxes which will be sent to their home or hotel for free.

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