After last week's violence by British soccer fans in West Germany, Britain's image in Western Europe has been tarnished again with the specter of hooliganism. With some 380 British youths languishing in West German jails, sports enthusiasts and chagrined officials in London are asking what can be done about the problem.
Britain's sports minister, Colin Moynihan, has said the government is determined to stop the thuggery. He proposed preventative measures, approved by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, which include travel restrictions for soccer fans, tighter control of attendance at matches, and a review of alcohol licensing rules.
The British youths were detained by German police in Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, and Frankfurt after brawling with German rivals, attacking police, and destroying property. The young men were following the English team as it was eventually eliminated from the competition. A larger number of German youths were arrested for joining in the brawls.
British soccer, known as football in Europe, has been troubled by bursts of violence since the late 1950s. Many observers are pessimistic about finding a solution to the problem which began to spill over into international competition several years ago.
The sport has not yet recovered from an incident three years ago in which 39 people were killed at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels where British fans were blamed for rioting during the European Cup Final between England and Italy.
Because of the Heysel disaster, local teams are still banned from European play although the England national team has continued to compete abroad. Last week's violence forced the British Football Association to withdraw its application to have English teams readmitted to European competition, and now future participation of the national team in the World Cup championships may also be at stake.
Many observers say such violence is one reason why soccer has been a declining sport in Britain and why public attendance at matches has been steadily decreasing over the past three decades. But there is little agreement about the causes of the behavior.
``Unless people face up to the deep structural roots of the problem, they're not going to find a successful solution,'' said Patrick Murphy, professor of sociology and co-director of the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research at Leicester University.
In a recent study of soccer hooliganism in Britain, Mr. Murphy and two other researchers say that the youth come from working class communities. They are, typically, employed young men who have money to spend on drink and travel. Murphy says they have been raised in the cities where they were left to fend for themselves on the streets, and where aggression is valued as a sign of their masculinity.
``They learn aggressive, masculine behavior on the streets and at home and it happens to manifest itself in the football stadium,'' Murphy says.
``What one has to do is to address the way these standards of behavior are generated - at home, in the street, and in school,'' he says.
Some observers insist that alcohol is largely to blame. A report by a member of the House of Lords, Susan Cunliffe-Lister, known as Baroness Masham, recommends a complete ban on alcohol advertisements on television and at cinemas. She has also proposed restrictions on drinking in public places.
The government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has favored a free-market policy in liquor sales, and appears reluctant to impose stricter rules on alcohol consumption for young people.
But it is considering a series of milder steps which include higher taxes on alcoholic drinks to raise the price, more restrictive practices in granting liquor licenses, and encouragement to liquor advertisers to tone down their appeals to youth.