Hooligan travel ban seems to be working

Stephen Beard Jun 23, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: So far the World Cup in Germany has managed to move pretty smoothly without too much of the hooliganism that’s marred previous tournaments. Only a few outbursts, arrests and not too much damage. The relative peace and calm may be due to the draconian measures taken by the British government. More than 3,000 known English fanatics have had their passports taken to keep them from traveling to Germany. From London, Stephen Beard has more.

STEPHEN BEARD: Don Foley, the soccer-mad manager of this London pub, is almost crying into his beer. He’s one of those banned from traveling to Germany. In his case it was because he’s been charged with causing criminal damage at a soccer ground. His trial is in August.

FOLEY: They take away your liberties before they’ve even found you guilty of anything.

BEARD: Were you guilty of anything, though? Did you actually cause that damage at that soccer ground?

FOLEY: No. What I’m guilty of is, let’s say, high spirits.

Don says he just likes to have a few beers and let off a bit of steam. He claims that in most cases England fans don’t cause trouble abroad. They simply uphold an English tradition: standing up to foreign aggressors.

FOLEY: Everybody wants to have a pop at the English. And the England fans will stand their ground. And that’s all the England fans are ever guilty of is standing their ground.

Although England fans have in the past left a trail of destruction at international tournaments. A thousand of them were arrested after a rampage in Belgium a few years ago.

But Kevin Miles of the UK Football Supporters Federation, who’s in Germany following the World Cup, says the British banning orders seem to be paying off.

KEVIN MILES: The tactic has definitely worked if you judge by the results at the first couple of games where the atmosphere has been absolutely incredibly positive.

He says the main effect of the travel ban has been to reassure and relax the usually uptight German police.

MILES: Their assumption switches from being one of “oh no, the hooligans are coming” to “Oh, the hooligans aren’t coming. That means the people who are coming must be OK and we can treat them like human beings and adjust the policing accordingly.”

The relative lack of violence in Germany so far seems to be due to low-key, even indulgent policing. The cops have turned a blind eye to frequent displays of drunken and rowdy behavior by England fans.

And so they should so long as it doesn’t turn violent, argues Geoff Pearson, a British academic who’s monitoring fan behavior in Germany.

GEOFF PEARSON: The money that comes into the game from large groups of English football supporters who will come and drink 20 pints in a day each, the benefits to the cities is absolutely staggering.

So far the Germans, with the help of the British travel ban, seem to have pulled off a near-impossible feat: hosting 70,000 beer-guzzling Brits on a drink-fuelled but peaceful spending spree.

At the European Desk in London this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: And in Los Angeles, I’m Mark Austin Thomas. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend.

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