English supporters just can't help themselves

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2006, 12:00am

One too many songs about the war by English fans and a provocative chant from the German fans resulted in an outbreak of violence yesterday.

I was going in search of a Chinese restaurant on Saturday night in downtown Stuttgart when I stumbled across the two groups of fans, between 500 and 1,000 strong in each contingent, and lined up on either side of a wide boulevard taunting each other.

The German fans had been celebrating their country's 2-0 win over Sweden and were in a feel-good mood as they bumped into the English contingent, many of whom appeared to have been drinking all day.

The taunts quickly became provocative. A few English fans started to chant 'two world wars and one World Cup' and began singing about 10 German bombers being downed by the RAF.

The German fans replied with 'we are going to Berlin without the English fans' in reference to the World Cup final on July 9 in Berlin. What had started as fun quickly deteriorated into trouble as plastic chairs and cups of beer were thrown.

'It all began as a bit of fun, as it has been throughout the World Cup so far. But today a few guys got carried away,' said one English fan who gave his name as David from Brighton. 'There is no point in singing provocative songs.'

Natalie, a German teenager, standing on the sidelines, said: 'I hope things don't get worse. It has been a good World Cup without trouble so far. We want it to remain so. But they shouldn't come here and start singing songs about the war. It is meaningless and pointless.'

England fan Steve Victor from Luton agreed. He said: 'The German public have been very hospitable and so friendly. The police have been amazing and very tolerant. It is a shame that a few bad elements among our crowd started this. It will reinforce the perception that all British fans are hooligans.'

The German police moved in quickly to stem any further violence. A total of 378 fans, mostly English, were arrested but 375 of them were released after a night in custody.

Stuttgart police president Siegfried Stumpf said that three remained in custody, adding that the 375 who were released had been banned from the city centre for last night's match.

More than 70,000 English fans have descended on this town in southwestern Germany.

When Germany and England avoided meeting each other in the second round by topping their respective groups, authorities in Germany heaved a huge sigh of relief as the problem of tens of thousands of fans from each country meeting each other had receded. But Saturday night's trouble could be a sign of more violence to come.