MONDAY VIEWPOINT Time to combat fascist threat

European MP Glyn Ford seeks a united front on hooliganism

The English are shocked but unsurprised by football violence. For two decades and more, the game here has been punctuated by mass hooliganism. Policemen and fences, videos and security companies have driven it from the pitch and the terraces to the streets. Yet most people interested in football knew it had never entirely gone away.

What came as a revelation last month in Dublin was the knowledge that the violence was pre-planned and premeditated. A small group of politically motivated men conspired to organise a riot, even publishing coded messages as to when the violence should be triggered. They were hugely successful. Their aim was publicity and they achieved it.

The violence was organised by an umbrella group, the National Socialist Alliance, which brought together around Combat 18 small regional neo-Nazi groups like the Cheltenham Volunteer Force and followers of the fascist Blood and Honour band.

This infiltration of football is neither new nor peculiar to England. It is just currently taking on a more virulent form as the electoral route to power is seen as increasingly problematic. Back in the 1970s, the extreme right-wing National Front and British National Party used the terraces to recruit and intimidate.

On the Continent there were similar problems. In 1985 at the Heysel Stadium, the Liverpool terraces were littered with BNP leaflets. The Juventus banners were illustrated with fascist and white racist Celtic crosses and runes. The Italian fan who came on to the pitch with a gun was a member of an Italian extreme-right group close to Gianfranco Fini's recently dissolved Moviemento Sociale Italiano.

Similar kinds of supporters are to be found amongst the fans of Lazio and Milan. Paris Saint-Germain are followed by gangs of extreme right- wing hooligans close to Jean-Marie Le Pen's Front National. In Germany, supporters of Die Republikaner and two other neo-Nazi groups recently banned by the German government infest young football supporters.

Their crude nationalism is not against the formation of trans-national alliances. In Bruges two weeks ago, German neo-Nazis carried Chelsea "Headhunter" visiting cards.

The extreme right is making a push to infiltrate football with a new, more violent agenda, pushing hooliganism towards terrorism. "The Headhunters", a gang who follow Chelsea, are at the front of this missionary activity.

At a European level we need either legislation that will allow prosecution for activities outside the United Kingdom, or a commitment by authorities abroad not merely to wash their hands of incidents by putting individuals back on the boat, but to pursue cases to a conclusion.

The football intelligence unit should take on a European dimension. We already have the European Union's police liaison unit, Europol, based in The Hague, where liaison officers from police and customs units of the 15 member states exchange information on drugs trafficking. They will shortly start to tackle terrorism. It would be appropriate to add the activities of the extreme right and its utilisation of football to further its aims.

The police are in an impossible situation. If rioting occurs they have been too weak and unprepared, as in Dublin. If they control events, as in Bruges, they are accused of violating the civil rights of individuals. Football fans have to realise in such circumstances the police neither can, nor want to, distinguish between supporters who have just been drinking too much and those whose political agenda overrides any interest in football. The only way to solve the problem is for fans, the clubs and the supporters to act individually and together.

n Glyn Ford, MEP for Greater Manchester East, is chairman of the European Parliament's Committee of Inquiry into the Growth of Racism and Racism in Europe, and a member of the Council of Ministers' Consultative Committee on Racism and Xenophobia.

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