British police expect at least half a million British football fans to travel to the European Championship Finals in France next summer and are preparing for the huge task of ensuring that the travel advice relevant to the security risk is known and understood, in the light of Friday’s atrocities in Paris.
With Uefa determined the tournament will go ahead and that football will not be deterred by the outrages that killed at least 129 people on Friday night, The Independent understands senior British officers are preparing to step up the task of ensuring the supporters of England, Wales and Northern Ireland know how to minimise any risk.
The finals are still seven months off, so officers can only work hypothetically, as it is unclear what level the security risk will be next June. But there will be liaison between them and the Foreign Office to ensure that the largest ever movement of fans from these shores departs in the full knowledge of how to stay as safe as possible.
As London prepares to receive the France team, whose determination not to be cowed by the terrorists will see them fulfil the friendly fixture at Wembley tomorrow night, thoughts have already turned to how to make next summer’s championships safer.
Former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell suggested yesterday that reducing the number of host cities from 10 to six or seven could help reduce the security risk. “I think that is certainly one of the options that could and should be looked at,” she told the BBC. “The cities will be different. They will have different levels of diversity, different levels of cohesion.
“These are the kind of judgments that those planning the championships will want to take into account, because the important thing is that the security strategy is appropriate to the town or city that is hosting the event.”
Another of the tasks facing British officers is the creeping return of English hooliganism, which poses a risk at the first international tournament easily accessible from these shores for years. The French forces will be vastly preoccupied next June without having English violence to contend with.
Though June’s friendly in Dublin between the Republic of Ireland and England passed off smoothly, thanks in no small part to the Irish Garda’s experience and the midday kick-off, there was violence on the streets of Alicante after England’s 2-0 defeat to Spain on Friday.
The decision to play such a game in one of Spain’s most party-friendly cities at 8pm on a Friday night was never going to help. It is understood factions of Portsmouth and Peterborough fans fought each other.
The Spanish forces were quick to deploy riot police in a situation where British officers would refrain from such tactics. Several bars were wrecked and a number of English fans were confronted by officers.
Though the Metropolitan Police are likely to introduce additional resources for the 8pm kick-off at Wembley tomorrow and adopt a high-visibility presence, there is understood to be no intelligence suggesting a specific threat to the game. All 23 members of the France squad, including Lassana Diarra and Antoine Griezmann, will fly in for the friendly.
Diarra’s cousin Asta Diakite died in the Paris attacks on Friday, while Griezmann’s sister managed to escape the Bataclan theatre, where 89 people were killed when it was stormed by terrorists.
Tomorrow’s match will, as planned, be held in aid of Breast Cancer Care and the charities are happy that there will be other gestures that relate to these events.
The Football Association’s head of security Tony Conniford – who was with the Met for 30 years – is also preparing to oversee the proposed trip of FA chief executive Martin Glenn, chairman Greg Dyke and England manager Roy Hodgson to the draw for the European Championship, which is scheduled to take place at 6pm on Saturday, 12 December at the Stade de France, where three explosions from Friday’s outrages were heard.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said the safety of players at next summer’s tournament had to be a consideration but this was not the time to analyse that.
“It’s too early to look ahead to the tournament itself,” he said. “After events like this the world has to carry on, but everyone is affected. We have to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again and try to overcome the very issues that are causing these things to happen.”
England Fans to sing French anthem at Wembley
The lyrics to the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” will be displayed on the big screen at Wembley on Tuesday night, allowing England supporters to sing along in solidarity with the French team and their travelling fans.
The England players, meanwhile, are understood to be keen to make their own tribute to those who lost their lives in Friday evening’s terrorist attacks. They were last night mulling over what that tribute will entail, and it will likely be revealed at this afternoon’s press conference.
The arch over Wembley Stadium and the big screen will both be lit up in the colours of the French flag.
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