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Friday, June 14, 2002
Hooligan fears prove unfounded
Osaka residents wonder what all the fuss was about after England match
OSAKA — Fears of hooligans running rampant in Osaka on Wednesday after a key World Cup soccer tie between England and Nigeria proved unfounded, and now opinions are mixed over the heavy security and concern prior to the game.
After the match ended in a scoreless tie, the entertainment districts of Osaka were packed with England fans who partied well into the night under the watchful eyes of nearly 7,700 police officers.
Although a few jumped into the Dotonbori River to celebrate their team's advancement to the next round, none were arrested for hooliganism. On Thursday morning, city and police officials breathed a sigh of relief that the evening had passed without violence.
"A highly organized and well-prepared police force kept the peace and prevented any hooligans from causing trouble," an Osaka police spokesman said.
"I'm just glad the event is over," said Akira Sekiguchi, who works at a small cafe near Dotonbori Bridge. "I stayed away from the Shinsaibashi district last night because I was afraid my friends and I might be attacked, even with all the policemen present."
Even many English fans didn't seem to mind the tight security. "It's actually kind of nice to see that there are so many police out and about, and they are being discreet and understanding," said Kyle Lockwood, a 27-year-old Londoner who spent Wednesday evening bar-hopping with friends.
But others in Osaka — mainly residents — felt that things had gone too far. At the Pig & Whistle, a British-style pub that was visited by hundreds of England fans during the night, several Japanese and foreigners who live in Osaka accused the media and police of creating a somber atmosphere.
"The media was really sensationalistic, running story after story about hooligans and showing a constant barrage of photos of police in full riot gear," said Kyoko Hatanaka, a 30-year-old Osaka office worker who has lived in Britain. "They were nothing more than propaganda organs for the police, and no matter how I tried to tell my friends it would be safe to party after the match, almost all of them decided to stay home because of what they saw in the newspapers and on TV."
Nor were some merchants in the Shinsaibashi district happy.
"All these cops and media stories over the past few months created a feeling of fear that kept customers away," said the owner of a clothing shop in the northern area of Shinsaibashi, who claimed that he saw fewer people than usual come to his store. "Security is one thing, but I think the city, police and media overreacted" to the potential hooligan threat.