Warrior breed and the blind-eye brigade

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The Independent Online

ONE OF the most infuriating facets of the Copenhagen disgrace - and I'm not referring to Arsenal's performance - was the way in which the violent scenes were so rapidly translated into a set-back for England's 2006 World Cup campaign. As if the venue for that long-off event mattered a damn in the immediate context of this distressing reminder that football is still at the mercy of thugs.

ONE OF the most infuriating facets of the Copenhagen disgrace - and I'm not referring to Arsenal's performance - was the way in which the violent scenes were so rapidly translated into a set-back for England's 2006 World Cup campaign. As if the venue for that long-off event mattered a damn in the immediate context of this distressing reminder that football is still at the mercy of thugs.

It is not the first time that recent outbreaks of hooliganism, and there have been plenty, have caused extreme embarrassment to both the Government and the Football Association. Not enough to cause them to do anything about it but sufficient for them to whine about the influence it may have on the 2006 decision.

Men can be stabbed to death, get fatally trampled by a police horse, or merely riot at a dozen provincial football matches and it seems that the first reaction is to hope that Fifa aren't watching. If Fifa aren't fully aware that our sores are still festering they are even dafter than I thought.

Actually, if there is any merit in the ludicrously expensive and humiliatingly unctuous England campaign it is that staging the World Cup or, indeed, any major football championship here is the only sure way to save other countries from being savaged.

We find it extremely hard to admit to ourselves that, although we have harassed the hooligans and forced them to seek battlefields away from football grounds, the disease remains uncured. Even the hope that the louts would grow out of it has been dashed by the glaring evidence that the virus is being handed down from generation to generation with increasing viciousness.

To ignore the enduring presence of this major difficulty while pursuing a vigorous campaign to bring a World Cup here betrays a twisted sense of priorities. Perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on the FA in this respect because the Government have eagerly adopted it as a cause that could earn them the gratitude of the nation.

That's why over £10 million has been spent and some good people have been dispatched 10 times around the world trying to jolly up support. It is a separate issue why we allow ourselves to be part of this obscene circus of persuasion.

If that money and the services of such as Sirs Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst had been directed at a concerted campaign to combat hooliganism we may well be a lot nearer a solution than we are. It was particularly ironic that those two heroes should have just completed a lobbying mission to the Bahamas where they were touting for the votes of Caribbean countries. Copenhagen would have emphasised that misdirection of football eloquence.

All that wining and dining turns its back on a battle fought valiantly by under-resourced police who receive scant backing from the Home Office. Successive Home Secretaries have threatened dire measures to punish offenders, or at least restrict their movements, but they come to little.

Such neglect while putting so much effort into pleading for the world to come here in 2006 might be forgivable if there was a public clamour for the World Cup. If there is, it is well hidden. Most football fans watch big championships on television, so the venue does not matter overmuch. I fear our 2006 World Cup enterprise will turn out to be football's equivalent of the Millennium Dome, but with a far more disastrous potential.

Euro 96 was not a disaster, but neither was it the trouble-free affair that the FA are now claiming. The riots following England's defeat by Germany have been conveniently forgotten. If officialdom has developed any expertise it is in the blind-eye department.

Hence the reaction of the Uefa chief executive Gerhard Aigner, who said the security in Copenhagen was "spot-on" and that some reporters had exaggerated the gravity of the incidents. Those who saw the televised scenes of the affray in which 11 were injured and 65 arrested will be the judges of that comment. Football's capacity to play down these outbreaks is long established and works on the principle that if it happens away from the ground, it hasn't really happened. It is a perilous attitude.

If Uefa want to protect Euro 2000 they can go a long way towards preventing problems by expelling England and Turkey from the tournament. They say they're considering sanctions and I can't think of a more emphatic way to get across their disapproval.

They wouldn't have to look far for support. The National Criminal Intelligence Service have warned that football hooliganism is again on the increase and are predicting that English fans are "almost guaranteed" to be in the thick of any trouble in Holland and Belgium next month. The service are preparing a report revealing that as well as hooliganism being on the increase, there has been a significant rise of the number of weapons being used.

If that is the expert view, why are we not acting with any sense of urgency to heed the warning? If Uefa won't take the hard decision, why don't we? At least, we could make some attempt to stop our thugs from travelling. There is talk this weekend of some action in that direction, but we've heard it before. There is not even the likelihood the English fans arrested in Denmark and deported without charge will face trial back here.

For 30 years we have wrestled half-heartedly with this curse while continuing happily to inflict our riot-rousers on others. What's worse, every time some foreign police force fails to control our lovely lads we have the nerve to compound the felony by deriding them for being too soft. Moreover, every incident is followed by a chorus of condemnations, apologies and strict resolutions never to let it happen again. It has become a grotesque parody in which the media join enthusiastically and part of which is to invite the pundits in.

You will hardly be surprised to hear that David Mellor was smoothly out of the traps early on Thursday morning for an appearance on GMTV. He was at pains to point out the contribution of the Turkish fans to the incident and mounted a defence of English supporters on the grounds that many have gone abroad without trouble.

Nina Myskow and Fiona Phillips, who shared the screen with him, are hardly football experts but they managed to give his views the rubbishing they deserved. The excuse that our rowdies are only a minority is not valid.

Muggers are a minority, so are burglars and murderers but that doesn't mean that their presence in our midst is in any way to be tolerated. Besides, anyone who has witnessed the bearing of England supporters abroad is aware that even those not there with the deliberate intention to cause trouble exude an unpleasant, strutting arrogance you don't observe with English supporters of other games.

The reason we possess so many young men who see football as a vehicle to express their strong feelings of superiority requires a greater understanding of psychology than is available in this corner of the paper. But if you suggested that they might be happier in a slit trench in Sierra Leone they'd probably run a mile.

We have on our hands a warrior breed whose desire for action is confined to a comfortable theatre of war with a bar handy. They are essentially our problem and, whatever it takes, we must stop sharing them with other countries. Until we do, the football world would be forgiven the conclusion that we are acceptable neither as guests or hosts.

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