Oslo fears grow as the show goes on

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The Independent Online
THE Football Association is expecting "within the week" the report of the inquiry into the Dublin riot by English supporters before deciding whether to go ahead with England's friendly international against Norway in Oslo scheduled for 11 October. They say, however, that they see "no reason" why it should not be played.

"We have to look into intelligence reports and see if there is any more we can do," David Davies, the FA's director of public affairs, said. "We will see what the report turns up on such issues as whether police officers from here go over there and what the attitude of the Norwegians is on taking no fans or taking more of our own stewards. Of course we have concerns but at this stage the match goes ahead."

In contrast with periods in the past, there were many swift actions coming from Lancaster Gate last week such as the charge-free hooligan hotline, which has received over 500 calls. There were also many sensible words, but those optimistic noises about the Oslo game were not among them. Anyone in Dublin last week, or who has been close to England fans abroad for more than a decade, should not wish upon Europe the worst elements that attach themselves like limpet-mines and with the same results.

The FA conceded as much last week. The gut reaction of football men, such as the England coach Terry Venables and his Republic of Ireland counterpart, Jack Charlton, that the Dublin fixture should be replayed, was quickly dismissed. The FA chief executive, Graham Kelly, admitted that it was unlikely that England would accept any more away games before the European Championship finals are held here the summer after next.

There is a huge worry for the FA should the Oslo match go ahead, report or no report. Even if no tickets are taken, the determined will still go. The only way to guarantee avoiding the scenes of Dublin, which the 1996 hosts can no longer afford, is to prevent the opportunity for them to start.

It is not to give in to hooliganism; it is to regroup and emerge stronger. The FA say that they are reviewing policy, in conjunction with government and the police. Better to concentrate efforts on making Euro '96 safe than be sidetracked by Norway '95. "If there is anything good to come out of this," Venables said shortly after the shame, "it is that it has happened now and not in 18 months' time. We have been warned. We are on our toes and not going to get caught cold."

"We are putting in place what is the most sophisticated system of crowd control in the world," Glen Kirton, the director of Euro '96, said. That, and the capability of the police inside stadiums now, demonstrated by those of the Metropolitan Police during the recent Chelsea v Millwall Cup tie, along with the experience they have of civil disturbances outside, combine to make England a good choice for the tournament. Uefa is aware of that, particularly with examples of hooliganism in Italy, Holland, Germany and France growing.

The matter of 270,000 tickets already sold - with the name of each purchaser on them, as at last year's World Cup so that touting and troublemakers can be traced - bringing in revenue already of £10m is but a detail of the wider picture.

"We will mount a security operation. We should not shy away from that responsibility and say `no tournament'," Kirton added. "We are not going to allow ourselves not to stage this tournament just for the tiny minority of extremists and criminals. We want to move down the road of civilisation, which means stewards instead of police, seating instead of standing and eventually segregation might go but we have to deal with what is happening at the moment."

What is happening is a climate of sleaze and bad behaviour within the game that insults its many honest professionals. And a background of crowd disorder that insults the huge number of decent spectators who are these days beginning to feel like Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

"There is a question of standards linking them," David Davies admitted, the FA having previously seen this season as a series of unrelated events but now hardening - at least, we hope - their attitudes. It is time for his governing body to back up their sensible words and support for laudable campaigns of anti-racism and fair play with action in leading the decent.

Much blame was attached last week to the Irish, from the gatemen who could not check the cards of the England Travel Club members, such were the queues - and that remains an argument against identity cards, with the potential for disaster at turnstiles - to the Garda Siochana for what was a nave police operation at best.

Let us not forget, however, as with Cantona - who goes before a three- man FA disciplinary committee next Friday - from whom the act of violence emanated. Let us also say a word to the Irish that seems to have got lost like some needle in the haystack of the last week. Sorry.

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