Stamp on hooligans

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 June, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 June, 1998, 12:00am

If one of the higher aims of the World Cup is to promote internationalism through football, that goal is clearly far from the minds of a small but violent band among the England 'fans'. The dramatic images of bottle-throwing supporters and baton-wielding police which have been flashing across television screens are a far cry from the convivial, carnival atmosphere that the competition was expected to generate.

Tens of thousands of genuine supporters from all over the world are enjoying a feast of soccer in the French sunshine. But attention is inevitably being focused on the handful who run amok, dragging the name of their country into the gutter with themselves.

The British Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has apologised to the French Government, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has expressed disgust. But the relevant question is how such incidents can be stopped from marring the rest of the competition.

Every tactic has been tried in the past against football hooliganism, from prison terms for offenders to banning them from football grounds. British police gave their French colleagues information about known offenders, but they have since reported that new faces are appearing in the gangs. While some genuine fans have been provoked into fighting, it is equally likely that young recruits are joining the ranks of the troublemakers.

England is not alone in this problem, but its supporters have built up such a reputation that football violence is known as the English disease - and it will be a long time before the country can shake off the bad image caused by people who are rejected by 99 per cent of the population.

Firm treatment is the only answer. The troublemakers must be left in no doubt that the only options lie between enjoying good football as part of a sporting, law-abiding crowd and finding themselves in a prison cell.