Munich rain helps to keep hooligans at bay

Robert Mendick,Jo Dillon
Friday 04 April 2014 03:44

Outside the Cafe Schiller, near Munich's main station, English football thugs hurled bottles at Germans nearby until police forced them to the end of the street with two baton charges.

It was one of a handful of ugly incidents. Disturbances before yesterday's match were small scale and, relatively, low key. There were 20 arrests and the National Criminal Intelligence Service described some England fans as "trash".

But with many suspected ringleaders blocked in transit, the law-abiding majority of England fans were in Munich purely for the football. "We don't sing 'No surrender to the IRA' – and we don't boo the other team's national anthems," explained Dr Simon Creeger, a nuclear physicist turned City banker, who is in Munich with his 56-year-old father Tony, a financial adviser. "But, sad to say," Dr Creeger added, "some of the English fans are a pretty xenophobic bunch."

Others had a mixed agenda. "No surrender to the IRA," screamed Glen Saffer in chorus with his 21-year-old son Danny and a group of their mates, drinking beer outside a bar in the heart of Munich late on Friday night. Football may be a game of two halves – but it is also a game with two sets of fans. The Creegers, both father and son, do things by the book – they are members of the newly formed official England fan club, England Fans, vetted to stamp out hooliganism, and they buy their tickets well in advance of kick-off. The Saffers, both father and son, on the other hand, do not. They travelled to Munich via Harwich, lying to the port authorities by telling them they were going to a stag-do in Amsterdam. Their true intention was to buy their tickets from a tout for at least 10 times its face value.

Mirroring the divide between the Creegers and the Saffers, 6,000 England fans had legitimate tickets for yesterday's game; another 4,000 did not.

"We stay out of trouble," said Dr Creeger, 29, from west London, who studied in Germany for his PhD. "But some English fans just don't respect the culture. They look menacing. Their heads are shaved and I have seen fans with Combat 18 [the neo-Nazi group] tattooed on their arms. The Germans are just not interested in the war. They want to forget the war. But it's our fans who keep bringing it back up."

Despite the best efforts of those who wanted battle, huge police operations in the UK and Germany – where riot police were very much in evidence – kept the lid on what many had feared would be a violent confrontation before yesterday's game.

Powers introduced by the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 and sophisticated intelligence techniques stopped the worst offenders even getting to Munich, where the English team was facing Germany in its crucial World Cup qualifier.

Six fans, stopped boarding a British Airways flight to Munich on Friday night, were prevented from travelling to the match by magistrates.

Police in Kent who detained 29 suspected hooligans at ferry ports and the Eurotunnel entrance in Dover and Folkestone carried out a similar operation. In Essex, police said 27 people were detained at Stansted Airport on Friday and Saturday.

The new Act enabled police to give individuals written notice ordering them to appear at a magistrates' court within 24 hours, not to leave England and Wales during that time, and to surrender their passports.

In the weeks prior to the match, more than 500 banning orders were issued preventing convicted hooligans from travelling. They had to surrender their passports.

With weekend rain damping all but the most hardened troublemaker, the police were counting their blessings. "It is the policeman's best friend," said a relieved spokesman for the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the organisation behind Britain's biggest-ever policing operation for an international match abroad. "Anybody who ever covered the Notting Hill carnival will tell you that."

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