Norway toughens up for England's visit

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The Independent Online

Football Correspondent

England's reputation - and, possibly, their chances of entering the next World Cup - could rest on the vagaries of Norwegian immigration law and the alertness of English police intelligence.

England travel to Norway in three weeks' time for the national side's first away fixture since the Dublin riot in February. Early intelligence suggests the 500 official supporters will be accompanied by as many independent ones, some of whom will be intent on causing trouble.

The frustration of Dublin was that police intelligence had identified potential hooligans, their routes and accommodation yet were powerless to prevent trouble due to the over-confidence of Irish police and legal restrictions.

A further annoyance was that, in keeping with most countries, Ireland simply deported most of those arrested, rather than undertaking the expensive and time-consuming process of trying them through the courts. Of 32 arrested no one was imprisoned, four were given suspended sentences and 18 released without charge.

Norway, however, have both the law, and, it seems, the political will to prevent a recurrence. Under their immigration laws anyone convicted of an offence within the last five years, which would be serious enough to carry a penalty, in Norway, of three months imprisonment, can be denied entry. Though leading English hooligans tend to avoid convictions during their travels, several do have criminal records for other, non-football related, offences.

English police are aware of these and four experienced "spotters" will be deployed at entry ports and an undercover operation instituted to try and identify them. Those that do get through will find tickets difficult to come by - the small Ullevall stadium (capacity 20,000) is sold out. Norwegian authorities have promised that anyone arrested for hooliganism will be tried.

The last development is particularly encouraging and is likely to be mentioned by the Home Secretary when he attends next month's Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg. At this western European governments will attempt to formulate an integrated strategy with a view to next summer's European Championships in England - a Common Aggro Policy.

Whatever happens in Oslo those finals will go ahead. English policing and stadiums are among the best in Europe and, though some skirmishes, at railway stations and camp sites may be inevitable, there will be few problems in grounds.

The danger with England these days is abroad, and that is why the Football Association are particularly anxious that Norway is trouble-free. The draw for the next World Cup qualifying rounds will be made in France in December and, though England's financial muscle has so far protected it from the consequences from errant supporter muscle, it will not do so forever.