There are no simple cures for football violence

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The Independent Online

The Independent is against violence, whether football-related or other kinds, our readers will be glad to discover. It is, however, also opposed to simplistic leading articles which assume that there is a "solution" to football violence in 450 words. The causes of the shaming outbreaks of thuggery which preceded and followed Saturday's honourable encounter on the pitch between two teams playing well below their best are both obvious and obscure.

The Independent is against violence, whether football-related or other kinds, our readers will be glad to discover. It is, however, also opposed to simplistic leading articles which assume that there is a "solution" to football violence in 450 words. The causes of the shaming outbreaks of thuggery which preceded and followed Saturday's honourable encounter on the pitch between two teams playing well below their best are both obvious and obscure.

Into the "obvious" category fall alcohol, testosterone and tribal loyalty. In the "obscure" category, it is hard to understand why young and not-so-young English men, many of them with children and jobs, should behave so irresponsibly.

The best reaction to England's national humiliation is that knee-jerk responses are bound to be wrong. It would be wrong, for example, to give the police, either of Britain or of other countries, the power to stop people who are merely suspected of being hooligans. What tests are the police to apply? Should anyone who is dressed smartly but casually and who knows the words of the national anthem be thrown in the slammer?

Of course, the British Government is right to prevent those with convictions for violence from travelling, and it is a pity, although it is understandable, that the Belgian authorities will not prosecute any of the 1,000 fans they arrested. But it would be wrong to say that none of those deported from Belgium should be allowed to travel to football matches in future, as their guilt or innocence has not been established, and some of them seem to have been rounded up indiscriminately.

Nor would the answer be for England to withdraw from the competition, or to drop its bid to host the 2006 World Cup, or for football to be banned. It was once suggested on our letters page that soccer sets up the expectation of violence without resolving it on the pitch, unlike boxing, rugby or American football - a thesis which is not wholly convincing. It would make just as much sense to ban Saturday nights in provincial town centres: these are the occasions and sites for aggression and violence, not their causes.

The real causes of such behaviour are social or cultural. We should look at why, for example, Scottish football fans came to believe that an essential part of self-respect as a Scotland supporter was to stay out of trouble and leave a good impression.

In the meantime, however, consistent and fair policing is the only answer. The British should foot the bill for the Belgian and Dutch authorities to prosecute as many perpetrators of violence as possible, so that - if convicted - they can be prevented from travelling to matches in future.

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