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Friday, June 18, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Boorish behavior of England fans reaching outer limits


LONDON -- After each Euro 2004 game representatives of UEFA's technical committee select the Man of the Match. Correction, the (fill in the sponsor name) Man of the Match.

Christopher Davies

It is a continuing uneasy relationship between football and alcohol, the sponsor's product that probably does most to harm the image of the sport.

Millions of people around the world happily enjoy a few pints before or after a match, a ritual that is an integral part of football.

But should the game's governing bodies consider a ban on alcohol sponsorship in the way tobacco is now a no-go area for virtually every sport?

To the surprise of no one, England fans, fueled by alcohol, have been at the center of drunken excesses in Portugal.

It is impossible to ban booze, but is it not hypocritical of the European game's rulers to accept millions from alcohol companies and then consider banning a country whose supporters drink too much of a sponsor's finest?

For as long as most people can remember English football has been plagued by hooliganism which has been exported to unsuspecting places.

The latest is the holiday resort of Albufeira in Portugal, which has seen English football fans turning the town center into a nightly battleground.

On one night earlier this week there were 34 arrests -- 33 held a British passport with English addresses.

Portuguese police captain Carlos Pereira said: "There a few so-called football fans wanting trouble. The problem is there are hundreds of British supporters and they all concentrate on a few pubs. We have dealt with tourists from Britain from 40 years and never had trouble before."

A shop assistant in the center said: "People start drinking at noon and finish at five in the morning. They spend money so the pubs do not close, but I do as I am afraid. The bars should shut at 12 a.m. but they are only interested in money."

With some beers weighing in at a hearty 5.8 percent, alcohol readily accessible England fans are becoming too inebriated, too quickly and the situation spirals out of control.

Reno's bar manager Jose Aginas admitted his takings had increased by 40 percent since the arrival of the British.

That's the good news -- financially -- but the bad news is that Aginas has struggled to find staff to serve drinks after bottles, chairs and tables were destroyed.

As always, English fans blame the police (which country's happen to be too heavy-handed at any given time, Portuguese the latest).

"They come with horses, dogs and batons and take no prisoners," said one fan, unaware of his unfortunate choice of words. "There are a few rowdy customers but some innocent parties are victims in all of this."

Ah, the English innocents abroad.

A Home Office spokesperson tried to put the situation in spin doctor perspective. "Around 40,000 England fans are creating an extremely good impression in Portugal. The mindless, drunken antics of 100 louts should not be allowed to undermine their efforts or spoil the Euro 2004 party."

But why is it always 100 English louts?

Are louts banned in other countries?

The Danes, Swedes and Germans are not shy when it comes to consuming the amber fluid, but they tend be able to resist throwing furniture around.

Why can't so many English people abroad enjoy a drink and leave the tables and chairs where they are?

UEFA had threatened England with expulsion if things got out of hand, but European football's ruling body does not consider the rioting in Portugal as football related.

Yes, you did read that correctly.

"From our perspective we view it as unrelated to the tournament," said a UEFA spokesman. "It is not being viewed as football hooliganism by UEFA.

"However, if it changes -- and we hope it doesn't -- and there is trouble around a stadium or around an England match that position could change and we would have to review it.

"At the moment, however, we are viewing it as the sort of problems that might be encountered in any busy beach resort where people have been drinking too much.

"We are not relating it to the famous 'yellow card' or saying that 'anymore trouble and we will throw England out.' We are leaving it to the Portuguese authorities to deal with it."

But it is always England. No one else. England.

This correspondent was on a Metro full of German and Dutch fans, laughing and joking between themselves, in Oporto earlier this week when suddenly a dozen English accents chanted: "If you hate the f..... Germans clap your hands . . ."

It is always English supporters who seem to be the catalyst for trouble. The psychologists come up with various theories but no answers.

In the meantime, the F.A. is walking a disciplinary tightrope but is ready to bring in a lawyer, because it says it cannot be held responsible for the behavior of fans who did not buy tickets through it.

It all has to be so predictable, so inevitable. Again.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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