Libero: Showing soon: 'No respect please, we're English'

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The Independent Online
It started as a distant rumble at about 4pm. By 6pm, it was an overhead thunder and you just wished David Mellor could have been there. It might have made the radio host, task force leader and self-appointed fans' champion more aware of just how unpleasant the English footballing experience abroad can be.

The first visit of English fans to Italy since Rome in October thankfully stopped a long way short of the violent scenes witnessed then on television in the Stadio Olimpico - the carabinieri's batons this time staying sheathed - but the behaviour of some Manchester United fans in Turin last week illustrated again why the fears about France 98 have prompted the Football Association to appoint a new head of security in Brian Hayes, the deputy chief commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

All was well at lunchtime when we stepped out, a group that included Mark Lawrenson, the former Liverpool centre- back and now BBC pundit. The locals in the restaurant were friendliness itself. This in a city which lost 39 of its citizens in the Heysel disaster of 1985, when Lawrenson's body, though not his heart, took part in the European Cup final against Juventus that should never have gone ahead.

As the afternoon wore on, the United fans began to arrive, going through their arrogant repertoire of songs and chants in the streets. The Torinese simply looked bemused. Then, at 6pm, Lawrenson endured the type of disturbing experience that so often leaves the bitter taste of Englishness in the mouth.

Some 100 United fans were gathered in the lobby of the press hotel, kitted out in uniform of replica shirt - and Italian clubs are getting miffed that they are unable to sell shirts as fashion items in more discerning Italy - and bottle of beer in right hand. As Lawrenson moved to the reception area to pay his bill, what began as some good-natured ribbing turned to loud and ugly personal abuse that necessitated a quick get-away.

You doubted whether one alone would have dared repeat the obscenities face to face outside the sanctuary of the pack, and you suspected, too, that had it been, say, a former Milan player amid Juventus fans, he might have received rather more of the respect that a distinguished performer merits. Lawrenson attempted to laugh it off with: "It's a good job I didn't play for Manchester City," but clearly he was pained by the experience.

Nobody got hurt or arrested. There was no damage. It was certainly nothing like Thursday night when Ajax fans attempted to lay waste to Bochum before their Uefa Cup tie in Germany. It was just one of those short-lived incidents that usually go unreported. And when the press is blamed for giving publicity to hooliganism, it should be pointed out that they do so only when provoked by the worst.

No, this was simply the kind of occurrence that happens frequently on match days in the bars and streets of the cities where an English team is playing. It is what makes it that much more distasteful. There was no sensitivity at all to a Turin public whose psyche is so scarred by the English and football.

Such boorish behaviour is, quite simply, tolerated because all are grateful to escape the experience physically unscathed. It is not that bad, surely, you think; just move away. It is, though, the lasting impression left on Europe by the modern Englishman abroad.

What a World Cup will make of it all, even what our fans consider run- of-the-mill conduct - and how civilised was 1994 in the United States without the English - is a concern. Mr Hayes may do his best, but you know it will take a lot more time and a shift in culture for things really to improve.

At Manchester City, meanwhile, it is good to see they are retaining their sense of humour despite everything. Last week's programme for the Wolves game took a look at the city of Wolverhampton and concluded: "Nowadays, people from the Wolverhampton area tend to dress like their local rock heroes - namely Slade and Black Sabbath - so expect a few suspicious haircuts and stack heels in the North Stand today."

The article also points out (with the aid of pictures) Wolverhampton's two large shopping precincts, the Mander and Wulfrun centres. "Like our own Arndale Centre they too probably had their Christmas decorations up in October (ooh, it makes us mad)," it says and adds that: "Barry [Barroyyy] of Auf Wiedersehen Pet was treasurer of the Wolverhampton and District Table Tennis Association."

Now why don't they have that sort of stuff in the Old Trafford glossies?

Spurs fans are also keeping their chins up with the sort of joke in adversity that keeps football turning. The arrival of the Swiss Christian Gross as manager prompted a recent chant from a section of their Jewish support. "Who," they demanded to know, "stole Granny's gold? Who stole Granny's gold?"

It still happens quite often during matches. A forward raises a foot as the goalkeeper attempts to clear and is penalised. Actually, it is the keeper who is penalised as he can send a dead-ball kick nowhere near the length of a drop kick. That, in fact, is the deliberate aim of the forward sometimes. The solution? Moving the kick to the centre spot, perhaps, to stop this tedious, time-consuming practice.

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