Violence of British soccer fans is not cricket, Europeans say
London — The mayhem caused by unruly British soccer fans is infuriating Europeans and forcing the British government to take remedial action. The hooliganism, as Britons readily agree, is simply not cricket.
Authorities are disturbed at the growing prevalence of soccer violence. It seems the slightest excuse is found to pick an argument and start a brawl. Many incidents are unrelated to play on the field or decisions by referees.
Some of the perpetrators even look on soccer violence as a form of sport itself.
The prospect of thousands of British soccer fans descending on European stadiums and running amuck strikes dread into the hearts of European cities.
Such fears were realized in Brussels Thursday when the local team, the Anderlecht, played Britain's Tottenham Hotspurs. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. Spurs supporters went on a rampage.
When it was all over, one Spurs supporter had been shot dead in a separate pub brawl, two fans had been shot and injured by police, and another 13 were taken into custody. The casualty toll might not have been so high, some British eyewitnesses said, if the Belgian police had not moved in quite so forcefully.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, speaking in the House of Commons, roundly condemned the actions of the British fans as a ''disgrace.''
In an attempt to avoid any repetition of Thursday's mayhem, Brussels officials are considering asking British soccer clubs (known as football clubs here) to pay the costs of policing future soccer matches. Brussels City Council is considering a proposal to demand advance payment by clubs. Those that failed to pay would not be allowed to play.
In Birmingham, Britain's second largest city, five police officers were hurt May 12 when rampaging football hooligans overturned a police van and dragged a mounted police officer from his horse after a soccer game. Police were also called out to curb violence caused by fans in Torquay in the south of England and Watford in North London.
The British government now is thought to be weighing the possibility of applying the Scottish practice in England and Wales of banning alcohol inside grounds and allowing the police to search for offensive weapons.
The courts increasingly have to cope with the problem but the penalties are often delayed. The courts are still dealing with the violence that broke out last September before, during, and after the game between Brighton and Chelsea, the club that has the worst record for violence among club supporters. Sentences handed down so far range from fines of between (STR)75 (about $100) and (STR)500 ($650) to six months' imprisonment.
The Football Association has set up of a commission to look into the incident. At the same time, it concedes it could not do anything about such incidents.
Tony Judge of the Police Federation is not sure that court sentences have much deterrent value. The punishment is not instant enough, he said in a telephone interview, and too few - only 1 percent of those caught creating a disturbance - are ever brought to justice.
In his view the ''cultism'' of soccer violence has to be addressed first.
''Each club,'' he says, ''has its cult of violent followers creating as much violence as possible.''
There are concerns that European clubs might go so far as to exclude British soccer teams from competing at all on the Continent. This would be not only a blow to British teams, which are enjoying a successful season abroad, but also a serious financial setback to the clubs, which depend on a good gate.