Human rights destroyed by humans' wrongs

Sport on TV
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Nothing puts the wind up a European policeman like a British football fan. Joseph Metcalfe, deported from Istanbul in November 1993, must have really terrified the Turkish constabulary. It is hard to say which aspect of Joe's appearance is the more intimidating: his greying hair, his reading spectacles or his hearing aid. Yob? Scum? Hooligan? Hardly. Joseph looks like what he is, a charming, mild-mannered old gent who wouldn't say boo to a goose, even if it was wearing a Galatasary scarf.

Grandad Is A Football Hooligan (Channel 4) recounted the plight of Joseph and other innocent British football fans who have been incarcerated and returned home in disgrace by European police forces for such heinous offences as "Getting off a train in Holland without a passport", "Walking down a street in Belgium without the match tickets that we confiscated from you earlier on", and "Being asleep in your room at a hotel in Istanbul".

Pat Hutchings was the perpetrator of the latter offence. Like Metcalfe, she is a Manchester United supporter, and was on a trip to Istanbul when she was woken in the middle of the night by four Turkish policemen and taken into custody. One of the officers spat at her on the way down to the station. She had committed no crime.

Pat got off lightly. Rory Skinner made the mistake of leaving the hotel. He was whacked on the back of the head with a truncheon, a blow that compressed his skull and damaged his eardrums. His offence? None.

Superintendent Brian Jackson of Manchester police was travelling with the United fans. Naturally he put in a word for them. "They are just hooligans who travel abroad, they get too much to drink and they let down both the British people and Manchester United," he said. Good to see the EuroPlods sticking together.

The British media were equally supportive of the United fans. Nigella Lawson, a food critic and rent-a-ranter, wrote in the London Evening Standard: "Dante himself could not have composed a more deliciously apposite punishment in any of his circles of hell. The idea of a thuggery of football hooligans being trounced by a thuggery of Turkish police hooligans is to be relished." Round Old Trafford way, they would no doubt relish the Dante-esque vision of Nigella scoffing her own restaurant reviews. With ketchup.

Inspector Bert Van Het Schip of Eindhoven police, an Ian Rush lookalike whose uniform had more tassels than a tart's boudoir, was the gloomy mastermind behind Operation Arrest Lots of People From Leeds.

This cunning plan involved asking a trainload of Leeds United fans if they were carrying their passports or driver's licences, and arresting any that were not. Since the British fans had been advised to leave these items behind in their hotel to thwart pickpockets, the operation was very successful, netting a great many peaceable football supporters, who were on their way to watch a match for which they had bought tickets.

"We weren't looking for hooligans," Van Het Schip revealed, "but we did not want unorganised travel." He was dead chuffed with the result: "There was nothing destroyed in the city." Except the weekend plans of scores of Yorkshiremen.

Inspector VHS (who would be well-suited to a quality control job in a video factory) aimed to nab all the Leeds fans who were not travelling with the football club's approved travel agent. The same argument was used to apprehend Chelsea fans in Bruges, who had their match tickets confiscated. Adam Thomas's excellent documentary suggested that this kind of operation will become increasingly common: it is in the interests of police forces to have all foreign fans coralled in one group; it is in the interests of football clubs to have that one group travelling with the clubs' chosen travel agencies. Monopolies tend to be money-spinners.

Such a restriction of the fans' freedom to travel where and when they choose and with whom is against both British and European law. But it seems that human rights do not apply to football fans.

Last week Eurosport was much concerned with Good Rope Management, which is not an efficient way of stringing up elderly British football supporters but is a central concept in stunt waterskiing.

It is clearly an expensive sport: most of the competitors in the US Pro Tour event in Indianapolis could only afford one ski. But on that they performed wonders, looping and somersaulting on the end of the rope like salmon trying to escape the hook.

Some skiers couldn't afford any skis at all, and performed their acrobatics without equipment. It may be sacrilegious to suggest it, but walking on water is one thing; spinning along it on your backside is even more impressive.

The star performer in the jumps event was a chap called Freddy Krueger. His favourite manoeuvre? The late cut.