For anyone worried about English soccer hooligans blighting this summer’s World Cup, Adrian Bevington, the English Football Association’s communications manager, has one message: They won’t be there.
“Around 1,500 to 1,800 hooligans won’t be coming,” Bevington assured The Japan Times on Wednesday. “Around 1,000 people — I don’t want to call them fans — have been banned under new laws that were enacted following Euro 2000, while the Football Association has removed a further 800 from its lists after reforming the supporters’ club.”
The F.A. says around 43 percent of the new England Supporters Club are new members and the F.A. has top-ranked former policemen vetting all applications to weed out potential troublemakers. Anyone with a conviction for soccer-related trouble and/or a conviction for a violent offense is simply not allowed to be part of the England setup.
“It’s been nearly 10 years since we’ve had trouble inside stadiums,” Bevington noted. “Even in the 1998 World Cup, when England played France at St. Etienne with around 20,000 England supporters in the area, we had no problems.”
Of course, not all the problems come inside stadiums, which are easier to police than narrow city streets. In the small Belgian town of Charleroi during Euro 2000, a small riot erupted in the center of town on the day England was to face Germany.
“There were problems in the city prior to the game,” Bevington admits, “but not in the stadium. And although it looked bad, the actual damage was minimal.
“I have to say that the Belgian police did not follow our guidelines, unlike the Dutch, who were much better, and the legislation to prevent hooligans traveling was not in place at the time, despite the F.A. urging the government to do so.
“The other problem with Charleroi was that it was very close to England, so it was easy for fans to travel there.”
Bevington says that most of the troublemakers in Charleroi have been identified and are unlikely to make it to Japan.
He does, however, expect 6,000 to 8,000 England supporters to come to Japan, of which around 4,000 will be official supporters, and he also believes that they will have a different attitude to tournaments played elsewhere.
“We think most will be making it their summer vacation, so the numbers of those just milling around will be reduced,” Bevington states. “Since the supporters club was reformed, we’ve played Germany in Munich, where the police praised the fans’ behavior, and Holland in Amsterdam, where only 10 people out of 8,000 fans were arrested, and none of them for violent behavior.”
Bevington also urged the Japanese to differentiate between soccer hooligans and soccer supporters.
“Supporters can be noisy and look unfriendly,” he admitted, “but just because fans have tattoos and a shaven head, it does not mean they are hooligans.”
If they are, Bevington wants the Japanese police to take action against them in the courts.
“If they do, it would make life a lot easier for the English authorities because if they are arrested, charged and convicted it makes it a lot easier to prevent them from traveling in the future.”
Apart from checking out arrangements to ensure the safety and security of fans, Bevington is also in Japan to promote the team. The F.A. is making plans to involve local children in events during their training camps, including a competition that will enable the winners to spend time with the team.
“It would be nice to think that England was everyone’s second favorite team,” Bevington said. “We are hoping the Japanese will get behind England at the games.”
Not surprisingly, Bevington remains upbeat about the upcoming tournament.
“We are very confident the World Cup will be a fantastic festival of football,” he enthuses.
“We’ve taken measures internally to prevent external problems and we are very hopeful the tournament will pass off without any problems.”
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